- Started: Mile 12.4, ~3100 ft
- Stopped: Mile 20.6, 3038 ft
- Miles: 8.2
- Elevation Gain: About 1000 ft
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.)
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:
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:
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.
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:
- Keep hiking and just take an extra day or so to complete the hike.
- Get a ride to Boulder Oaks (mile 26) and continue hiking on our original itinerary.
- 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.