Saturday, March 25, 2017

PCT Day 4 - Miles 36-42: To Mt Laguna Resupply

  • Started: Mile 36.1, 5282 ft
  • Stopped: Mile 42.6, 5942 ft
  • Miles: 6.5 plus a mile of road walking, plus the amount by which I got lost
  • Net Elevation Gain: 660 ft

I woke up late on Day 4, March 14, 2017. I was snuggled into my sleeping bag, wet with dew because I had cowboy camped again. It was to be a short day. I did not mind sleeping in until 9am to let the sun dry my sleeping bag, since I did not think it would take me long to hike a mere 6 miles. And I would prefer to never pack my gear while it is wet.

The day before I did most of the elevation gain to reach the top of Mt. Laguna, hiking from 3170 feet at Boulder Oaks to about 5282 feet, by my estimate. Today I would go down a little bit to Long Canyon creek at 5230 feet, up to a maximum of 6005 feet, and down very slightly to the Mt. Laguna resupply.

There are two possible places you can send your resupply on Mt. Laguna. One is the lodge, which charges a $5 fee for the service, and the other is the post office, which charges no fee other than the price of mailing your package. I'd opted for the lodge, because they have better hours. I did not want to risk getting to the top of Mt. Laguna only to find the post office closed.

Leslie was waiting for me at the lodge, and I did not want to keep her waiting long. Unfortunately, my little six-mile hike with minimal elevation gain seemed to take me forever.

Like the day before, it was hot. Probably in the 80s but by my standards that's too hot. I had some shade early in the morning, but by mid-day there was none. The views between miles 36 and 37, at least, were nice.

The View Hiking Up Mt Laguna

The seasonal creek at mile 37.1 was no more than a puddle. But the "Long Canyon Creek Ford" at mile 37.7, while not a "creek ford" (I hopped over it on some rocks) was flowing well enough to fill up my water in.

Water ~ PCT Mi 37
"Stream" at mile 37.1

Granary Tree
Granary tree of an acorn woodpecker. They drill holes and shove acorns in them for storage.

Around mile 40, I ran into what I first thought were two day hikers having a snack, seated on a log. "Where are you hiking?" I asked.

"Canada!" was the reply.

Leslie and I had met one thru-hiker before, a man named Mike with a 52-lb pack who was cheerfully hiking along at mile 12, on his way to Lake Morena despite his heavy load. Aside from him, these were the first ones I'd met. Their trail names were Raven and Freebird. Raven is an artist and she wore a hiking skirt with a beautiful design of a raven and the sun.

Freebird was on his fourth thru-hike of the trail. He's done heavy snow years before. Raven did part of the trail last year too. They are taking it slowly and enjoying it, but planning to reach the Sierras in May. Freebird prefers to go over the snow before it melts, before there are nasty water crossings and swarms of mosquitoes. I must say, I see his point. So long as there is not an increased danger of avalanches, at least, but no doubt he is mindful of that too since he's already done it so many times.

We hiked along together for a little bit, but then they passed me because I am so slow and could not keep up.

I just kept going, feeling like these short six miles would last forever.

I did not take the first turn-off from the trail that pointed to the road and the lodge. Leslie had mentioned she might hike to meet me and I did not want to miss her. I continued going to Burnt Rancheria campground, to the drinking fountain, which is now off. Raven and Freebird were there cooling off in some water in a trough near the drinking fountain.

I made a dumb move. Instead of hiking on a ways to the next turn-off from the trail to the road, I decided to cut through the campground. Only once I entered the campground, I could not figure out which way led to the road. I decided to just go straight in the direction of the road, off trail, and not following the roads of the campground. My short cut was a long cut instead. I bypassed the post office and lodge, exhausted myself, and felt very foolish too.

When I got to the road, I could not tell which way I needed to go to the lodge. But a building to the south looked like it was the right one. I turned left and walked along the road to it. Thankfully, I was right. There was Leslie, waiting for me. I could only think of a cold beer.

I had planned for us to spend the night at mile 48.9, at the Penny Pines Noble Canyon Trailhead. There is water there, although it is off now. But there is a spring I know of nearby. And, in any case, I had no intention of going anywhere on foot for the rest of the day. The heat had just done me in, and I wanted to take off my boots and sit.

Leslie, on the other hand, had spent the day waiting for me, and she was eager to go hike. She suggested we camp at the El Prado/Laguna Campground, the only nearby campground that was open. It was a few miles up the road, or about 5.5 miles by trail. She would hike there, and I'd hitch a ride later.

I sat a while, and ate, and drank, and checked the trail water reports posted at the lodge, and I got my resupply box and packed it. I went to the bathroom in a real toilet. And I went over to the gear store to get sunblock, aloe, and a hat that gave my poor burnt neck more coverage. I looked to see if they had anything to cover my burnt calves too but they didn't. Well, they had pants, but I didn't want pants. I like hiking in my capris.

At the gear store, I met a few more thru-hikers, Dr. J and Inchworm. They said they'd share a campsite with Leslie and me, since it was $24 per night for a site at the campground.

Later, back at the lodge, I could no longer resist temptation to buy a Julian pie. They only sell entire pies, not slices. But between so many thru-hikers, Leslie, and myself, we could eat a whole one. Right? So I got an apple-cherry.

(By the way, there is a restaurant on Mt. Laguna but we were there on a Tuesday and it was closed.)

Then I did the last thing I intended to do before heading to the campground. I refilled my water at the Laguna visitor's center. I heard voices nearby and I looked around. There were Raven, Freebird, Dr. J, and Inchworm. They had all decided to camp there, for free, instead of going several miles further to the campground where one had to pay. They urged me to stay, but I could not leave Leslie.

I gave them all pie and had some myself. Then I tried to hitch a ride to the campground. And I had no luck.

It was getting to the time when I had promised Leslie I'd meet her there. I really needed to get there. After a few minutes standing by the road, I started walking. Whenever I heard a car, I'd stop and stick my thumb out. Nobody stopped.

I'd gone a mile before finally a car did stop. The man said, "I bet you're going to meet your friend. We just saw her. It's a long way to get to her." There was a woman in the car too, and a dog. They'd met Leslie over at the campground, or maybe on her hike, and they knew she was waiting for me. They kindly brought me to her.

We got a campsite and got set up for the night. Leslie had looked for a place to pay without success. The campground had some faucets working, we were told, but the showers were off. We found out the next day they were actually broken.

Leslie loved her short hike that afternoon, but her feet were now giving her bad enough problems that she thought it wise to stop hiking altogether. She had a trip coming up that she is looking forward to, and she did not want to jeopardize it. It was going to be her daughter's first backpacking trip, and she wanted to be there with her daughter of course. Plus, it required a hard-to-get permit, whereas the section we were hiking does not. She can come do this trail any time, but not the other one. And she has only one chance to be there for her daughter's first trip. So she was done.

Leslie offered to trail angel me, but at that point I got cold feet. I'd met a ranger on the trail that day and he told me what I already knew, that Pioneer Mall had no water, and then scared me by saying he thought Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail had no water either. To get down Mt. Laguna to the desert without running out of water, we needed several places to have water, and we needed to know in advance which ones did. The water report said that Rodriguez Spur Truck Trail had water. I did not feel good about the conflicting information.

What's more, Leslie's phone can get internet from the trail to check the water report, whereas mine doesn't, and Leslie's phone can often make phone calls too. Mine can't. And she has a DeLorme InReach, and I don't. She has the means to get information and get help if an emergency strikes. I don't. And I still didn't have my tent, and now we were getting a forecast for rain the second to last day of our hike.

I think some part of me also just wanted a shower and a flush toilet. And I felt it was probably safest to let my sunburn heal before going out in the sun all day again. (Despite buying sunblock, I did not want to use it. It was some awful chemical mess that I did not want on my body, I did not want getting on my sleeping bag, and I did not want washing into the environment.)

One last part of my decision had to do with the flowers. At the lowest elevations of the desert, a superbloom was taking place. The trail goes through the desert's higher elevations. Thus far, there were very few flowers on the trail. If I got off the trail, I could day hike around in the desert, shower regularly, eat real food, not risk my life, and go each day to the places with the best wildflower blooms.

The next day, the two of us found the camp host and paid for our site, and then we got a ride back to the Lodge, where Leslie had cell reception and where we had a better chance at getting a ride. We ended up calling a shuttle and paying them to take us back to Leslie's truck in Warner Springs. The shuttle was expensive but they misquoted us the price and accidentally gave us a 50% discount, making the cost very reasonable.

As we drove down Mt. Laguna to Scissors Crossing, I immediately felt I'd made a mistake. There was water everywhere. The landscape was green.

Also, the low elevations of the desert (where all the flowers were) was forecasted to be in the 90s for several more days and then cool down to 70. Wouldn't it be better to wait until the weather cooled to go down there? And in that case, what was I going to do for several days? I might as well hike the PCT.

I ended up skipping the section of the trail between Mt. Laguna and Scissors Crossing. I've day hiked the flat stretch on Mt. Laguna to mile 48.9 before, so I basically skipped 28 miles of Section A overall. I hope to hike that bit later this year, or early next. A few days later, freshly showered and with clean laundry, I started up again at Scissors Crossing and finished the hike to Warner Springs.

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