Thursday, March 16, 2017

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
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.

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