Tuesday, March 21, 2017

PCT Miles 26-36: The Climb Up Mt. Laguna

Leslie and I awoke to her alarm at Lake Morena. Both of our tents were in the shade, and we were cold. There was some frost on my gear. Neither of us got up. I practically need the sun to bake me out of my tent in the morning on the trail. I'm not an early riser, with or without an alarm. I usually hear the alarm, but I have all kinds of bad judgment in the mornings. Common sense tells me "Get up or else the trail will be hot in the midday sun," and I find a way to justify why actually it's a wiser decision to stay in bed, nevermind the consequences. (Leslie, on the other hand, had already proved her ability to get up early and hike several miles in the coolness of the morning the day before.)

We had left our plan as follows: We were 6 miles behind our itinerary. Maybe we would get a ride to skip some of the trail, or maybe we would just extend our hike an extra day. We would go to breakfast at the deli near Lake Morena and see if we could find a ride. If we could, we'd take it to Boulder Oaks, mile 26. If not, we'd hike, probably to Kitchen Creek Falls at mile 28 or Kitchen Creek Rd at mile 30.

My sleeping bag was wet with dew, since I had cowboy camped, and her tent was wet. We had planned to get up early and head to the deli with all of our stuff packed, in case we found a ride there. Instead, we lingered before getting up, and then dragged our gear into the sun to dry. We left for the deli, hoping it might be dry when we returned.

At the deli, we each got breakfast. I was so grateful for a coffee (I brought instant coffee but I hate the stuff and had not drank it despite my caffeine addiction - I considered it an emergency supply in case I literally could not hike at all without caffeine). There, we got to chatting with a large man dressed like a motorcyclist, who introduced himself as Tiny. He was a Trail Angel who regularly gave hikers rides as far as Mt. Laguna. We told him about our hiking plans, still up in the air, contingent on finding a ride. He offered to give us one and agreed to meet us by our campsite in half an hour.

Our gear was dry enough when we returned to it, so we packed up and headed out with Tiny. It was already hot out, and it was about 11am before we got on the trail. I had done the next four miles (Boulder Oaks to Kitchen Creek Rd) in the dark last summer, so I remembered it as a pleasant, mild incline and an easy bit of trail. At some point, I assumed, the trail must get steep or strenuous, to reach 6000 foot Mt. Laguna from the 2000-3000 foot chaparral the trail meanders through in its first 26 miles.

Once at Boulder Oaks, we filled up our water. We had meant to do so at the deli, because Lake Morena had signs posted all over that its water was contaminated with E. coli (which is a kind way to say that it is contaminated with shit, because that is where E. coli comes from) so it had to be filtered. We looked forward to filling up with water that was already potable to save us some work. The deli had clean drinking water, but so did Boulder Oaks.

Then we each used the restroom (a pit latrine) and we headed off. Before we went, I snapped this photo of a strange looking thing on a sagebrush plant. I'd never seen it before, even though I've seen lots of sage brush all over the West.

Funny Looking Thing on a Sagebrush

Already, it was hot and there was no shade. Even though I remembered this part of the trail as easy, I remembered the first bit of incline as the trail climbs above the 8 freeway after passing underneath it is steep. And it is. Leslie stopped to talk to some SOBO section hikers, while I slowly made my way up it. Then she called to me to wait for her, which was odd. Usually we hiked at our own paces, often alone, and leapfrogged one another all day.

I waited, and she caught up. She did not feel right about the hike. She did not like hiking in this unseasonable heat (neither did I for that matter) and she preferred to do shorter miles each day. My plan had us ending near mile 38 that night - almost 12 miles all up hill in the heat. It wasn't that she couldn't do longer miles. She can. She has. No problem. But when there is no necessity for it, she enjoys backpacking more when she does about 8 miles.

I understood that completely. I like short days too. When I plan, I like planning long days, thinking of the delicious accomplishment of looking back on how many miles I've completed. And after I've done a long day, I am so proud of what I have done, and so glad I have done it. But in the moment, it is far more pleasant to hike 8 miles and then stop mid-afternoon to enjoy your campsite, maybe bathing, or doing laundry, or relaxing with your feet in a stream.

I suggested we just do as many miles as she wished then. I did not want to cut her trip short due to selfishness. And, truth be told, I'd be plenty happy myself doing fewer miles. We could stop after 4 miles if she liked, at Kitchen Creek Rd. Or after six miles, at Fred Canyon. Or one more mile to Cibbet Flats campground. Or we could go 10 miles to a campsite at mile 36. We could play it by ear and do what felt right to her.

For a moment, we both set off to continue hiking. Then she noticed her back was wet. She checked, and found her water bladder was leaking. There was no fix for it, and no way for her to continue hiking in a way she felt was safe and healthy, even if I shared some of my water or gear with her. There is an excellent gear store on Mt. Laguna, about 16 miles up the trail. Leslie, wise enough to stop backpacking before catastrophe strikes, told me she'd get a ride up the mountain and meet me there the next day.

I continued on. What I remembered as an easy hike in the cool night air was not easy at all in the mid day heat. There was no shade whatsoever. After passing Kitchen Creek Falls, accessible from a side trail I did not take, I saw how much water there was from above:

Kitchen Creek Falls

I had enough water to go for a little bit longer, and I expected to find some water around mile 30. Sure enough, I did not even have to leave the trail to seek it out like my map instructed. A little stream crossed the trail and I filled up there.

I tried to get a decent photo of a butterfly. I'd seen these butterflies all over the trail but they never stayed still long enough to get a decent photo. This was the best I could do.


The trail went on, crossing the south face of the mountain, with absolutely no shade. Then it curved around to the east, but still there was no shade. At one point, I came upon a swarm of bees, and thought about how my friend Crystal was stung by bees on her first day hiking the PCT the year before. It took several minutes for the bees to move up the trail and then off of it so I could pass without being stung.

I hardly took any pictures. I was just hot and uncomfortable and worried about sunburn. Two days before, I'd put on my sunsleeves to protect my arms, which were already burning, but a half-inch of skin in between my sunsleeves and my T-shirt sleeves still burned. The day before I'd put a patch of the Omnifix tape I bring for blisters on part of that skin to protect it. It had worked, but I hadn't used enough to protect that area on both arms. Two days before, the back of my neck also burned, despite the hat I wore that was supposed to cover it.

I had put my bandana around my neck, facing the back, attempting to cover that skin. But the next day, the backs of my calves and the area on the front of my neck above my collar burned. I got heat rash on the bottom of my calves, because I hadn't worn my gaiters the day before, and the area they had previously covered burned badly. I bought a second, bigger bandana at Lake Morena, and now I wore two bandanas around my neck, one facing back, and one facing front. Then I put on my gaiters and covered up the backs of my burnt calves and the tops of my arms with Omnifix. I hoped this would keep my skin safe.

I bought sunscreen at Lake Morena too, but it was some chemical concoction, and I preferred not to put it on if I could cover myself up enough. I did not want that on my skin, and I also did not want it getting on my down sleeping bag, nor did I want to wash it off into the environment around me. I should have bought some zinc-based sunscreen before I set out for the trail, or maybe just clothing that covered me more.

When I could find a tiny patch of shade, I sat down to eat a bar for lunch, or to go to the bathroom, or to just rest. Those patches were rare, and they never coincided with nice rocks to sit on. I just sat in the dirt and was glad for the shade.

At long last the trail dropped down into a canyon, Fred Canyon. It was like an entirely different trail all of a sudden. Instead of going along a dry, hot, exposed mountain ridge, it was now in a canyon with a stream shaded by oak trees. It was a perfect campsite and I wished I could stay. But I hike slowly and I wake up late, and I did not want Leslie to have to wait for me the next day on Mt. Laguna. The original itinerary said I should get to Long Canyon at mile 37.7 today, not stop at Fred Canyon at mile 32. I told myself I would hike as far as I could, at least to a campsite at mile 36.

The trail rose out of the canyon and again went along an exposed part of the mountain, now facing the west. I thought about how many times I'd driven up Sunrise Highway, which was down below, never considering the part of the mountain where I hiked now.

It was after 5pm before the trail had any real shade. I hiked until after dark, and at last found a nice campsite at mile 36. It was close enough to my goal of Long Canyon (Mile 37.7) to make me happy. It had no water, but I had enough water. It's hard to find campsites in the dark, and if I passed this one, I risked having to hike several more miles to find another. So I laid out Leslie's poncho, which I was using as a ground cover, placed my sleeping bag on it, and slipped my legs into my sleeping bag. Then I put on my wool hoodie and rain jacket, even though there was no rain, because I preferred to use my down jacket as a pillow if I could, and I cooked dinner on the ground next to the poncho. Once I had eaten it and washed my dishes, I went to bed.

This was the first time in my life I have ever been afraid while camping. I was alone after spending all day trekking around a part of the wilderness that gets little human traffic, aside from PCTers. And there had not been very many PCTers for months, since the thru-hike season is just now starting. This was the remotest place I felt I had ever camped. I thought I'd seen mountain lion scat on the trail. I'd heard of hikers who had mountain lions prowl around them in their tents. As flimsy as a tent is, it is thought to keep campers safer from grizzlies than if they cowboy camped, from what I read. What about mountain lions? A few times, I heard a rustle around me, and I filled with more intense fear than I'd ever felt. I felt myself becoming paralyzed with fear, and forced myself to sit up and look around with my headlamp on.

Ultimately, I was able to fall asleep, and sleep all night until morning. And I was not eaten by any mountain lions.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

PCT Day 2 - Mile 12.4 to Lake Morena (Mile 20.6)

We woke up on day two camped four miles short of where we had planned. The day before, our first full day of hiking, Leslie's muscles were sore, and my injured knee had started to hurt. I injured my left MCL when I fell off the AT back in January, and the doctor said I was OK to hike, and that this hike would not cause any permanent damage. I still think knee pain is probably a sign I should quit doing whatever I'm doing - and in this case, I was hiking. As a result, we decided to hike only 8 miles instead of the planned 12.

Day two, Leslie got up early. I meant to do so too. But I didn't. I groggily told her I'd meet her at Lake Morena and go without me. Leslie hiked several miles in the nice cool shady morning before it got hot out. I slept in. I have very bad judgment early in the morning when I'm weighing getting up vs. getting more sleep.

At last, I got up from our little campsite and snapped a few pictures of the clematis and peonies growing nearby. I ate a bar and got on the trail. Due to the lack of water in SoCal and also due to the fact that I hate oatmeal, I decided to bring a no-cook breakfast of bars this time, to reduce my water needs in the morning. (In the Sierras, where there is lots of water, hating oatmeal does not keep me from packing it for breakfast every single time. By a week into my hike, it tastes like wallpaper paste. And for whatever reason, in real life, not on the trail, I love oatmeal. Go figure.)

California Peony
California Peony

The trail was certainly drier than the section we did the previous day. I don't think I hit water until I reached the bottom of Hauser Canyon around mile 16. I listened to Wild on audiobook (so cliche, I know) and happily hiked the several miles of flat and down hill to the bottom of the canyon. I interrupted two skinks on my way down. I'm not sure if they were just hanging out together or doing something a bit more romantic in the middle of the trail. It wouldn't be the first time I've seen animals doing it in the middle of the PCT. Last year I caught two horny toads in the act around mile 22. Then, this time, at mile 16, Hauser Creek, I saw these 2 frogs:

Frogs Doing It

Not only is there water in the creek, but these frogs are optimistic that the water will last long enough for their eggs to hatch and their tadpoles to grow legs and lungs.

The sun was already hot and there was almost no shade. I reached the creek at noon. I've done the climb out of Hauser Canyon before, although I did it on a cool evening last year. It's not a bad hike when it isn't hot AF and when you have enough water. Without water, and when it's hot, it can be deadly. A hiker was airlifted out the day after we hiked it this time. I think SAR has to make an awful lot of visits to Hauser Canyon to rescue dehydrated PCT hikers.

I filled up my Camelbak and dipped my shirt and my bandana in the creek. Then I put my shirt back on, and my bandana around my neck to cover the back of my neck. I'd burned the back of my neck the day before. I also wore my sunsleeves to protect my arms, and I put Omnifix tape, which I carry for blisters, on my upper arms to cover the bit of skin between my sunsleeves and my Icebreakers T-shirt because I burned those the day before too.

Then I began the climb.

There's nothing interesting to say about that climb. It was hot and it sucked. I didn't mind it as much as I might have because I'd done it before and knew it didn't go on forever. I kind of knew where the trail went. There's a little rock cave with shade part way up that Kathy the Trail Angel told me about but I didn't feel like I needed a break when I reached it. A short while later, I wished I had stopped.

I continued hiking without too many breaks because I wanted to catch up with Leslie, who had a few hours head start on me. I hoped she took her time or maybe took a nap out of the sun somewhere, so maybe I'd reach her before she got to Lake Morena. I didn't even really stop for lunch. I wasn't that hungry. My stomach gets upset when I exert myself a lot, especially when it's hot. I ate a weird "raw food" Japanese flavored thing (nori, wasabi, sunflower seeds) and half a bar, but I did not touch the aged cheddar or any of the other snacks I brought.

Part way up, I saw a horny toad:

Horny Toad

Last year when I did this hike in May, there were flowers everywhere. Now, there wasn't much yet. I had hiked from about mile 16 to mile 20.6 before, so I was comforted to be on familiar terrain. The view on the climb up was nice too. I think the tall mountain you see to the west is San Miguel but I'm not sure.

The View from Hauser Canyon

Toward the end, I was really dragging. I was able to remember landmarks and know where I was - how far I was from the end when I saw the PCT signs, when I got my first glimpse of the lake, and so on. That was encouraging. A couple along the way told me that the deli at Lake Morena is known for their milk shakes. Ohhhhh. I'd always thought the word "malt" on their sign referred to liquor. It referred to shakes!

I reached Lake Morena with a bad sunburn on the front of my neck, the part not covered by the bandana, and the backs of my calves. I was still mostly blister-free, but I can't say I felt good. And my tummy was not well, since I'd lost my appetite in the heat and barely ate while hiking 8 miles. I would get a beer and some food to feel better.

I am not proud to admit that I am just about the worst friend ever. I did a bad thing. I got to the end of the trail and I looked for Leslie and did not see her. Well, I thought, she could be in one of two places: a campsite, or the deli. And I hoped like heck she was at the deli. After all, I had no idea where PCTers were supposed to camp but it looked like a long walk with my pack on and I knew there wouldn't be a chocolate milkshake at the end of it. The deli on the other hand....

So instead of turning left to the campground, I turned right to the deli. I walked along Lake Morena Dr. a few blocks (Halfmile says 4/10 of a mile I think) until I reached the deli. No Leslie. A good friend would go back to the campground to find her. I looked at the beer but given that the choice was either a six-pack or a $7 enormous bottle that would get me wasted, I ordered a chocolate shake and a sandwich and fries. Then I sat and then I ate them.

I knew it was wrong. I tried texting Leslie, hoping I could redeem myself by telling her to meet me at the deli, but I had no cell signal. I asked a few others to help me text her but nobody else had a signal either.

THEN I went to the campground.

As soon as my stomach was full, it occurred to me what a thoroughly bad thing I'd done. But there was nothing to do but face the music now.

I did not want to walk all the way to the entrance (at the furthest end of the campground), so I looked for Leslie's tent - and Leslie - but I could not find her anywhere. I lugged my pack to the entrance and asked where PCTers were supposed to camp and if Leslie had been there. The woman was extremely nice. She directed me to an area by a gazebo and told me Leslie had been by and she'd paid for me. Camping is $5 per person for the backpacker's campground.

Then I went back to the campground, over to Leslie, who was hanging up the last of her laundry. I was carrying an open box of a few leftover fries and half a sandwich, so my guilt was obvious. I confessed immediately. Leslie was nice about it, but she said that she had gone to the campground (a sign at the end of the trail, which I hadn't read because I already knew my way around Lake Morena, provided directions) and waited for me to eat or shower.

I suppose if I had read the sign I could have reasoned it out that she had gone to the campground and not the deli. Her trail name should be Peeta, I thought, thinking of a line in the second Hunger Games where Katniss reflects on how Peeta is really the better person among all of the other characters. Better than Katniss, for his willingness to sacrifice himself for others and unwillingness to kill, and better than all of the other victors for the same reason.

I set up my camp, showered ($.50 for 4 minutes of scalding hot water), and did my laundry while she went to the deli alone. While she was gone, I thought more about what a truly bad thing I had done, especially given what a good thing she had done - paying for my campsite and then waiting for me before even showering. I apologized again when she got back. She said it was OK. It seemed like she meant it too, but I think it would be entirely fair for her to be furious with me. Then she went to shower.

We talked about what to do next. We were six miles behind our itinerary. The options were as follows:
  1. Keep hiking and just take an extra day or so to complete the hike.
  2. Get a ride to Boulder Oaks (mile 26) and continue hiking on our original itinerary.
  3. Keep hiking and, when we get to the Mt. Laguna resupply, get a ride 7 miles up the trail to catch us up to our planned itinerary.

We both seemed kind of ambivalent about what to do, so far as I could tell. I think I wanted to finish the hike on time but did not mind getting a ride to skip miles I'd hiked before, and I think (although I could be wrong) that Leslie's first choice would be to just finish the hike at the pace we were going and extend it for a few extra days, and also maybe she was less sure what to choose because she was trying to be agreeable to my preferences and she was less familiar with the trail than I am (I've hiked much of it before and she hasn't). It's harder to choose which miles to skip or whether to skip any at all if you don't know what, exactly, you are skipping.

I know she did not want to skip the Mt. Laguna section of the trail because it's flat and pretty, walking through Coulter Pines with pine cones the size of pineapples, and then along the side of the mountain with a vast, expansive view of the desert below. And - I was now learning - that she needed sufficient time in each place that had electricity to charge her devices - a need I did not have that I had not factored into our itinerary.

Another factor we were juggling was the weather. It was so hot out, and would be for the foreseeable future. Not as hot as San Diego gets, but plenty miserable for March. Which options would force us to hike uphill in the mid-day sun without shade, and which ones would allow us early morning or late afternoon shade for our uphill climbs? I love night hiking to avoid the heat, but Leslie loves seeing the beautiful views as she hikes and she has a great eye for landscape photography. If we hiked at night, she'd miss that.

In the end, we decided to eat at the deli the next morning and see if we could find a ride to Boulder Oaks. If we did, great. We'd take it. If not, we would just keep hiking and work out any decisions that had to be made (like whether to finish the hike a day late, or whether to skip some of the trail on Mt Laguna) later.

With that, we went to bed, once again resolving to wake up early the next morning - for real this time! Once again, we went to sleep to the sound of frogs.

PCT Day 1 - Mile 4.6 to 12.4

I have a problem with magical thinking. I thought, for example, when I planned our trip from my cozy bed in Wisconsin, that surely I would train enough before setting out on the trail that the second day, March 11, 2017, I could hike 12 miles, no problem. Obviously. Right?

We camped on day "0" (we started late and hiked for just a few hours) at mile 4.6 and we were to make it to Hauser Creek, circa mile 16, by the end of the day.

Magical thinking part two: It's a long day so I'll get an early start. Who did I think I was making this plan for? Certainly not me. I know how I do with early morning wake up calls.

So, day one, the alarm went off early. I did not exactly jump up out of my sleeping bag into the freezing cold morning air. Eventually, I got up. Unfortunately, San Diego is in the midst of a heat wave and the weather is unseasonably hot for March. I slept away the cool hours of the morning in my sleeping bag, which meant I ended up hiking under the hot sun, with little shade. My hiking partner Leslie got up before I did, but not early enough to avoid the heat.

Once we got up and on the trail, we spent the day leapfrogging each other. I would stop to photograph a flower and she would pass me, then she would stop for a short break, and I'd pass her, and so on.


Wild Peas
Wild Peas

Red Maid
Red Maid

Right after leaving our campsite, which we'd struggled to find in the dark, we saw an excellent camp site just a few more yards up the trail from where we'd spent the night. Then the trail rounded a corner, and there was a view of a vernal pool where I imagine all of the frogs that croaked all night were hanging out.

For the first several miles, we passed so much water. We did not expect to reach water until mile 12, but up until about mile 8, there were several streams that went across the trail. At one point there was an enormous crack like a sinkhole in the trail and we had to go around it.

Before too long, we came to the area that burned last year with the Campo fire. Because of all of the recent rain, the ground is no longer black with soot. Several plants that look dead are re-sprouting from their crowns (the part of the plant where the roots meet the above ground parts), an adaptation to fire that many species in San Diego have. There were California peonies and wild cucumbers everywhere, creating splashes of green on an otherwise bare ground. I imagine an awful lot of soil eroded from the mountains in all the recent rains, with no vegetation left to prevent erosion.

As the day went on, the shadows got longer, and there was finally shade to rest in. We spent several miles climbing up hill, and then at last the trail was more level. We reached the water around mile 12.2 (it's after one pipe gate around mile 12, and before a second pipe gate at mile 12.5) and we both bathed and gathered water for dinner.

At that point, we discussed whether we were actually going to make it to mile 16. Well... maybe not. And since miles 14-16 or so go down hill into Hauser Canyon, we feared we would not find any suitable campsites with the sloping ground. We decided to look for a good campsite after bathing and gathering water at mile 12 and then we could cook dinner and sleep there. We'd be about four miles behind schedule, but we'd figure it out later.

So that's what we did. We found a lovely campsite around mile 12.4, before the second of the two pipe gates, and we spent the night there. It was a bit warmer than the previous night, and frog-free.

PCT Day "0" - Border to Mile 4.6

The PCT begins with a 20.6 mile section that often has no water. It crosses a road around mile 2, and then does not cross another road again until mile 20.6. It's not uncommon for hikers to get so overheated or dehydrated while attempting to complete this section that they must be airlifted out.

So, we had a plan. This time of year, there was probably water in several places along these 20 miles. We had that in our favor. Otherwise we'd have to carry a LOT of water, or hike long miles each day to complete it, or both. But we started late in the day on March 10, around 4pm, and just hiked a few miles in to a stream we hoped was flowing at mile 4.4 and a campsite at mile 4.6. We could eat all of our meals for the day before setting out, and get a few miles in without needing to pack extra food. It also gave us a chance to have a short first day, which we both needed because neither of us were in shape. (I "trained" by eating cheese in Wisconsin... although a few times I put on a 20 lb pack and went up and down the stairs in my apartment several times.)

All went well at first. We parked my hiking partner Leslie's truck at Warner Springs and a trail angel (and truly, I mean ANGEL) drove us from Warner Springs to Campo and dropped us at the border. Then, off we went!

Even in the first few miles, the trail was plenty wet. We reached the little footbridge just after mile 2, and water was flowing in the creek under it! We kept on hiking, as it got dark.

Flower season has not really started in earnest yet, but the trail was lined with California peonies, the flowers and vines of wild cucumbers (NOT EDIBLE), and sugarbush.

California Peony
California peony

Wild Cucumber
Wild Cucumber flower

Wild Cucumber
A tiny baby wild cucumber fruit (NOT EDIBLE)

Sugarbush flower buds

At some point, we sat down for a snack, and that's when I realized, I forgot to bring my tent. Whoops. Leslie, who had cell reception (Verizon), called the trail angel Kathy, to ask if I left it in her trunk. I had a sinking feeling it was in Leslie's truck. It was. (By the way, I had no cell reception with T-Mobile.)

In the dark, we hiked to the stream at mile 4.4, which was flowing so heavily that we had to cross on stepping stones. There was poison oak nearby so be careful in this area - and anywhere near water, to be honest. It's been such a wet year that a few times I even saw it growing away from creeks.

I filled up my collapsible bucket with water from the creek and carried it the short distance to the campsite Halfmile lists at mile 4.6. We thought we found it but the ground was soaking. We kept going a short distance and cut through some buckwheat to what looked like a decent campsite. I guess others have used it before because there was trash there, even though it was a bit wet and not ideal.

Leslie saved the day for me by offering me her poncho to use as a ground cover to put under my sleeping pad and bag. I was happy as a clam cowboy camping (cowgirl camping, I suppose) because I like looking at the stars anyway. I got a bit less happy about it in subsequent days when I woke up with a damp sleeping bag, but that first night it was OK.

Not long after we got set up, another hiker came along, a man named Mike who has done the AT (trail name: Sherpa), and we invited him to join us. He was section hiking to Mt Laguna over the weekend, and we enjoyed his company.

The night was cold, and Leslie froze. I warmed up in my sleeping bag eventually, but as soon as I did - of course - I had to get up and pee. But then I snuggled back up in my 15 degree NEMO down bag, used my down jacket for a pillow, and had a wonderful night's sleep under the stars, listening to the sounds of Pacific Tree Frogs. Lots and lots of very loud Pacific Tree Frogs.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

PCT Section A Itinerary

Here's my PCT Section A plan for March 2017. This is right at the beginning of the season when thru-hikers start their hikes, so I'll get to meet them as they go past (and any thru-hiker who is in any shape at all to actually hike from Mexico to Canada will be passing me). I won't be in good shape when I start this hike, and I'm sure that some of the early days on the trail are going to hurt.

  • Day 0: Border to Mile 4.3 (4.3 miles)
    • The first 20.6 miles of the PCT have almost no water. There's a stream at mile 4.3 that dries up early in the season. If it's flowing in early March, I think it would be great to start the hike in the afternoon and just do a short first day to the stream and camp there.
  • Day 1: Mile 4.3 to Hauser Creek (11.7 miles)
    • Hauser Creek is at mile 16. It dries up in early spring but I'm told if it's dry you can hang a left (east) and hike along the bottom of the canyon to find water about a mile and a half away.
  • Day 2: Hauser Creek to Boulder Oaks (10.4 miles)
    • Just 4.6 miles after Hauser Creek is Lake Morena. It's a nice campground with water and a store nearby. Another 4 miles takes you to S1, Sunrise Highway. There might be water there in the early spring, but if not, cross under the highway and walk a few more flat miles along Cottonwood Creek to Boulder Oaks campground. Last year in late May there was still a muddy puddle of water left but nothing more. But Boulder Oaks at mile 26.5 has running water.
  • Day 3: Boulder Oaks to Long Canyon (9.6 miles)
    • From Boulder Oaks, which is near the 8 freeway, you begin the climb up Mt Laguna. I've only done the first 2.1 miles to Kitchen Creek, which are not steep. There's water in several places, Kitchen Creek Falls, Kitchen Creek Rd, and the Cibbet Flats campground near Fred Canyon Rd. But if Long Canyon creek is flowing at mile 38.1, I'd like to make it to there for the day.
  • Day 4: Long Canyon to Penny Pines (10.8 mi)
    • Resupply at Mt Laguna, then hike to Penny Pines at mile 48.9.
  • Day 5: Penny Pines to Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail (8.9 miles plus another mile off trail to water)
    • This section is pretty low on water. There's a cache at Pioneer Mall at mile 52.7 and then a few other options for water that are pretty far off trail. At this point, the trail is descending from Mt Laguna into the desert.
  • Day 6: Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail to Scissors Crossing or San Felipe creek (8.8 miles or 9.2 miles)
    • Scissors Crossing, at mile 76.4, is where you can hitch a ride to Julian. I think I'd prefer to do that if possible, and I'll have to do that if San Felipe creek is dry. Julian's a fun town in the mountains known for its pie. The other option if San Felipe creek has water is to camp there.
  • Day 7:Nearo in Julian (~4 miles)
    • I plan to spend most of the day in Julian and then get a bit of hiking done in the evening when it's cool to put me closer to the Third Gate water cache. There's 14 miles between Scissors Crossing and the Third Gate and little to no water in between. That would be a long day for me, especially in the desert heat. I'd prefer to break it up - and add pie.
  • Day 8: Hike to the Third Gate (10 miles)
    • The Third Gate is a very reliable water cache at mile 91.
  • Day 9: Third Gate to Barrel Spring (10.2 miles)
    • This bit finally takes you out of the desert toward Warner Springs. near Barrel Spring in March before. It's definitely not desert.

  • Day 10: Barrel Spring to Warner Springs (8.2 miles)
    • This last part of section A is flat, easy, and lovely. I've hiked there in March before. There are green meadows and you might seem some cows (which are a good reason to filter your water). At the end, you'll reach the wonderful Warner Springs community center that is very good to PCT hikers. It's a 1.2 miles hitch or hike into town from the fire station at the end of Section A.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

PCT Resources

If you're going to hike any part of the PCT (or all of it) there are a number of resources that are your friends. Here they are:

  1. Permits: You need three permits to hike the whole trail.
    • A hiking permit if you are hiking 500 or more miles on the trail (you'll need to get permits for only the area(s) you are hiking in if you are hiking less than 500 miles on the trail).
    • A California fire permit to use any fire in California, even just your cookstove.
    • A Candian entry permit if you are going all the way to the trail's Northern Terminus in Manning Park.
  2. Halfmile's maps: All of the maps you need for the entire trail, printable on normal sized paper. These are nice topos with campsites and water and other waypoints marked. They include pretty much any information you need like addresses for resupply locations all in one spot. And they are free. Get them here.
  3. More goodies from Halfmile are below.
  4. Postholer's data: Another major source of data and maps is Postholer.
  5. PCTWater.com: This site is a crowdsourced effort to provide up to date water information, particularly for parts of the trail that are very dry. Find it here.
  6. A guide to trail towns: There are several trail town guides available, including some books for purchase, but this one is available online for free.
  7. Craig's PCT Planner: This allows you to put in when and where you're starting, where you are going to resupply, how fast you hike, and how far you are going, and it tells you when you'll arrive at each location. It's a handy way to figure out how much food to put in each resupply and when to send them to each location. Find it here
  8. Weather Reports: There are two available. The first might have better information but the second offers weather for more locations.
  9. The PCTA: The Pacific Crest Trail Association provides permits to anyone hiking over 500 miles. They also do a lot of great work on the trail, and provide info about the trail. Find them here.
  10. Facebook PCT Groups: Each class of PCT hikers has its own group. Search for PCT Class of 20xx and you'll find the year you're looking for. This is an amazing resource where you can connect with thru-hikers, section hikers, former hikers, and trail angels. You can ask them anything, and find answers you didn't know you needed to questions you didn't think to ask.
  11. A list of trail angels: There are lots of wonderful people dedicated to helping you along the way and you can find a list of them here. You can also find some trail angels through the PCT Facebook group
  12. Highway Intersections: This map shows where highways intersect the PCT. It is helpful if you are looking for where to start or end a hike, or where to get off the trail.
  13. Books:
    • Yogi's PCT Handbook is the book I've seen recommended by PCT hikers.
    • The Wilderness Press guides are the books I have (SoCal, NorCal, and WA/OR. I mainly use them for the data, which I typed into a spreadsheet. Now I just refer to the spreadsheet instead of the books. If that's all you want, you can just get their data book.
    • If you are new to backpacking, I recommend Wilderness Basics. It's written by the San Diego Sierra Club and it's the book I used to learn how to hike and backpack. The perk to using this book is that the authors base their knowledge on the places San Diegans hike most: the chaparral, mountains, and desert of SoCal and the Sierras. In other words, the exact terrain you are hiking for the first 1000 or so miles of your hike.
  14. LighterPack: Less important but still useful is the site LighterPack, which allows you to post a gear list and then try different scenarios to see how you can lighten your pack. You can also share your gear list and ask others to make recommendations.

PCT Section A Here I Come!

As winter drags on in Wisconsin, I find myself increasingly fat and depressed. I've bought bigger pants but if I get even one size bigger I'll be in plus sizes. Plus, the largest women's sizes are made for tall, big women, not short, fat women. The proportions are all wrong. And I was feeling the depression just dragging me down, making me unable to do anything.

In the past, the answer for me to both of these problems was: hike! Well, where can I hike? I suppose around here I'd have to get snowshoes. OK, that can be done. I looked at the options. They bored me. I couldn't make myself get out of bed and drive to the trailhead only to walk around a boring 2 mile circle or whatever it was in the snow. And driving further or hiking further sounded even less appealing. In the end, I just walked the 4 miles to my favorite coffee shop. It wasn't a hike and it involved walking along a road with no sidewalk. I brought my bear spray along not for bears but for potential muggers and rapists. I did it twice. It was cold and it sucked.

I pulled out a map of the midwest and looked for anywhere good to hike at all. Northern Wisconsin? Maybe there would be wolves or moose or something. What about Minnesota's Boundary Waters? There are definitely wolves and moose and beavers there. I'd need snow shoes. I checked the weather report. It was -4 during the day.

What about the Great Smoky Mountains? An 11 hour drive. Doable in a day. Good weather. Trails without snow. Real mountains. Sign me up.

So I went. I hiked a few miles along the AT. It was cloudy and muddy and wet. I slipped and fell and hurt my knee. I had prepaid my hotel so I spent the rest of my time there just driving around the park and getting to know the area. It was pretty. It was a lot nicer than Wisconsin. The area just outside the park was a nightmare though. It was tourist hell. With my knee not better enough to hike on yet, I drove home a day early.

But the Smokies are a real option for me. I have class only two days a week this semester. I could drive down, spend three days there, drive back, and not even miss class.

The thing is, it was so muddy, I couldn't even imagine pitching my tent in all that mud. I know they have shelters on the AT to stay in but you have to reserve them. I like more flexibility than that when I backpack.

I considered all of my options for spring break. The Rockies and Sierras will be covered in snow. The AT just doesn't excite me. I even looked up the Inca Trail, hoping that the cost of the airfare could be outweighed by inexpensive hiking on the trail. (Turns out it isn't, because you can't really hike it without paying a guide or tour company.) In the end, the best option was to just go home. Go home to San Diego.

And in San Diego, the best option in March is to hike the PCT. Because if I do that I won't need a hotel or a car. A bus takes you to Campo to start, and, well, I'll figure out how to get from Warner Springs back to San Diego at the end somehow. And it will be wildflower season! And it's supposed to be a banner year for wildflowers in the Anza Borrego Desert!

So, I'm in. I'm doing it. I booked the flight.

I've got just two weeks in San Diego, so I pulled out my PCT spreadsheet to see how far I could get. I think I can do all of Section A but no more. I looked over the PCT water website (helpfully named PCTWater.com). I looked at when the real PCT thru-hikers are starting. A few are starting before March 15, but most are starting March 15 or later. I'll have company on the trail. They'll be going faster than me, but we'll end up camping in many of the same places. I don't mind hiking alone but I do prefer to camp with others.

I made that decision a few days ago and it's like electricity is running through my veins ever since. The creeping depression is gone. Just like that. Gone. I'm still fat, but at least one problem is solved. I've even been dreaming about hiking.

I have a hunch the surge of adrenaline running through me is not a good thing for my health. I would bet my therapist would tell me to calm the fuck down and let my body learn what it feels like to just be OK. Not excited in a good way (hiking!) or excited in a bad way (stress). Just calm and OK. And, yeah, I'd like to get there. Right now I'm honestly too excited to focus on my homework and that's a bit of a problem. But at least now I can get out of bed. At least now all of my actions have a goal, and that goal is 109 miles of beautiful, wonderful trail in my favorite place in the world.

I'll post my plans on here in the upcoming days. There's a certain amount that just can't be planned until it's clear where there is and isn't water along these 109 miles. There are some seasonal creeks that dry up some time in early spring, and there are faucets in campgrounds that are turned off in the winter. There doesn't seem to be a sweet spot where both seasonal creeks will be flowing and the campground faucets are all on. Thank goodness for the PCT Water website. As of now, I have a few contingency plans based on what is happening with the water in early to mid March when I hike through. But I'll share those with you in another post.