I began writing about the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail in another post, covering the start to mile 2.3. At that point, you reach Highway 94, right around the 50 mile mark. From this point on, there is no way to get water between here and mile 20.6 during most of the year. If you reach the 94 and you think there is even a slight chance you might run out of water in the next 18.3 miles, head east down the road for less than a mile (or hitchhike) to the grocery store and get more water.
I've spoken to hikers who brought 9 liters on this stretch of the trail, from the border to Lake Morena at mile 20.6, and who ended up making it there no problem with water to spare. I've also called the sheriff's office to airlift a dehydrated hiker at mile 17.3. It's a rough way to start the trail, as it weeds out the unprepared in a dangerous and potentially deadly way.
That said, the initial 2.3 miles are mostly downhill with a gentle grade, dropping about 300 feet. The next few miles are easy, pleasant, and beautiful. When you reach the freeway, cross it and head west a few yards. The trail picks up there, and it is well marked. You soon reach a sign letting you know that you have a long way to go before you reach another road, or Lake Morena.
To the best of my knowledge, this sign is a bit misleading. First of all, by my math, Lake Morena is not for another 18.3 miles. Second, the so-called "SD Bndry Rd" which is listed in the PCT guidebook as SD Boundary Rd 17508 is - to the best of my knowledge - a dirt road called the Big Potrero Truck Trail. I've attempted to drive there and it appeared to be blocked off by a locked gate. The gate actually blocked off Hauser Creek Rd shortly before Big Potrero Truck Trail branched off from it, about a mile or two from the PCT. So... yes, you're 12 miles from a road, and no you won't find any cars on it, or water, or anything else helpful. Although I think you could hike out a mile for help if needed.
Before long, I was enjoying the beautiful wildflowers. Like this daisy:
And this Splendid Mariposa Lily:
There are 3 different types of mariposa lilies I've seen in the first 20.6 miles of the trail. Up to this point, I had only seen Golden Bowl Mariposa Lilies. Suddenly, I saw lots of Splendid Mariposa Lilies. Much later on, in about Mile 16, I saw Weed Mariposa Lilies (which are yellow, and prettier than their name implies).
This little purple flower grew alongside the trail for a bit:
Then, sure enough, more Golden Bowl Mariposa Lilies:
I'd been seeing Silver Puffs since I started at the border, but I only stopped to get a photo of one now:
Sugar Bush. Rhus ovata.
I saw some Mohave Yucca. I took a kind of weird shot of one of the leaves. This plant is amazing. The Kumeyaay used it for food, they made cordage from it, and they used the roots for soap.
There was Golden Yarrow everywhere.
I didn't recognize this flower. It was on a shrub, and there was just one (or, really, half of one) left. The remainder had gone to seed.
There were a few poppies:
And this guy:
You cross a little wooden footbridge over a dry streambed. It is surrounded by riparian vegetation - cottonwoods, willow, blackberries, mugwort, and Yerba Mansa - so it must be reasonably wet for those plants to grow. But it was bone dry when I passed through in late May.
By the way, you've probably heard "leaves of 3, let them be" to help you steer clear of poison oak. It's a great tip. But California's wild blackberries also have leaves of three. You can tell them apart from Poison Oak in two easy ways. First, the edges of blackberry leaves are serrated (see the photo below) and Poison Oak is not. Second, blackberry has thorns.
Just before the bridge, I also saw this little flower. I bet you anything it's not native. It looks like the sort of thing you find planted in people's yards.
You pass a Coast Live Oak. You'll see a lot of Coast Live Oak in this part of the trail, and a lot of species of oak in California in general.
Coast Live Oak leaves
The trail is beautiful and easy in this section. You can see a manzanita in this photo.
At mile 2.9, you cross a railroad track. So all of the photos above were taken in the first 0.6 mi of crossing the 94.
The train tracks
A PCT sign at the train tracks
I passed these little button-like flowers, which look much different up close than they do from afar. Instead of looking like little buttons, you can clearly see many different flowers together.
Like before, there was a lot of chamise:
And Yerba Santa:
And Sugar Bush:
Sugar Bush is one of three similar related native plants: Sugar Bush, Lemonadeberry, and Laurel Sumac. All three are in the Sumac Family. So are Poison Oak, which I saw a ton of on the trail, and Basket Bush, which some believe looks similar to Poison Oak. I took the photo above because I thought the red color in the new growth was striking. It reminded me of the occasional red color in Poison Oak.
And lots of Chia:
You can also see the border from the trail:
Then, ahead, you can see this, whatever it is.
Before long, though, the signs of civilization go away.
I passed one last, blooming Stinging Lupine:
Here's a photo of the leaf:
You can always tell lupines from their leaves, which are palmately compound.
Between miles 2.3 to 4.3, there's a little bit of up and down but nothing extreme. Between mile 4.3 and 9.4 the trail goes up over 1000 feet. I only did up to mile six, but the grade was not bad, and it was never too steep. I kept reflecting on how well-made the trail is. Aside from this climb, the only real difficulty about the first section of the trail is the weight of the water you must carry and the distance you must go to get to water. That is, until you reach Hauser Creek at mile 16. But that will be my next post.
For all of my posts on the PCT, click here