My trail partner and I keep on trucking through the SoCal inferno in this stretch of the desert, where we visit a hot springs, get spoiled in the town of Big Bear, deal with the extreme heat, celebrate a couple of milestones, and climb up a big-ass mountain without water. Thank goodness I have some Unicorn Pop Tarts as an emotional crutch; we’re almost finished with the PCT, with only a few hundred miles to go! Here’s the latest from my SOBO thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Day 107: Cajon Pass to Mojave River, 28 miles
I awake to the crackle of the high voltage power lines we’ve camped under, and a warm wind pulsing through the canyon. It’s first dawn, and we grumble a bit as we break camp. We have a McDonald’s hang over; we’re filled with awful food and thousands of calories worth of soda. Time to go work it off.
The trail winds up into the scabby hills above Cajon Pass, where the bitter bush and sage are scrawny and the air smells a little rancid from pollution. We’re skirting the edges of the sprawl of the Inland Empire, and the litter is as abundant as the graffiti.
After we crush about five miles or so, we sit in the dirt beside the trail and have an early snack with a second dose of coffee. I’m tired, inside and out, and everything I thought I knew about myself and the trail has been worn down to raw flesh and teetering emotions. I’ll be happy when I’m finished, but this is my second thru-hike of this trail, so I’m clearly enamored with the PCT. Will twice be enough? Somehow this time feels different from the last. But why? What brought me back? It’s a question I get asked a lot, and I still can’t answer.
My deep train of thought is suddenly shattered by another hiker, bounding up the trail and then stopping suddenly, turning on his heels when he sees us sitting among the sage. He points to me, and then Cheesy Puff.
“You’re Artemis, and you’re Cheesy Puff.”
“Hey, have we met before?”
“No. But I can tell you when you passed me. It was at Sonora Pass. I’ve been a day or two behind you ever since.”
I’m not sure how to interact with him. He’s kind, and polite, and not at all off-putting. And he told me his trail name, but I failed to write it in my notes and can’t recall what he said. This is what this experience has become lately, a fast-moving blur of hikers with beards, short shorts and tiny backpacks, and I’ve forgotten how to function as a normal human. I don’t know who’s who anymore, and this is unacceptably rude. He keeps going up the trail, and we finish our coffees, stretching our legs back into the path.
By early afternoon, we catch views of Silverwood Lake Reservoir, nestled in the hills ahead. It’s a sticky hot day, but dry and with fleeting patches of shade that provide just enough relief when we need it. We pass a trail crew digging a ditch, who tip their hats at us in an old-school gentlemen kind of way, and a few of them warn us of a large rattlesnake resting in the trail ahead. It isn’t until we’re out of sight that I realize that they’re on a work crew from a correctional facility, hence the matching jumpsuits.
They were right about the rattlesnake, he’s quite big and happily resting in the middle of the trail in the shade. I pick up handfuls of dirt, and toss it at him, and he coils a bit and then scurries off into the manzanita. We give him a wide berth just be on the safe side, and hurry past.
By midday, the heat is stifling and we’re ready for a lunch break. According to Guthooks, the spigots at Cleghorn Picnic Area are still on, with the last report being only two days prior. We walk off trail, taking a paved detour to the area, and find that the spigots near the bathrooms are actually off. My heart sinks, but we keep walking until we find a nice, covered spot out of the sun, with tables and benches, and a spigot hidden behind some bushes. It’s on, thank goodness. I fill up all my bottles, and rinse my socks, and make a protein drink for part of my lunch. The rest consists of the usual: peanut butter and tortillas, crackers and candy.
After enjoying the shade, and feeling rather sleepy, we decide to head out again, taking a dirt road back up to the PCT. From here, we skirt the reservoir, enjoying the cool breeze that’s sweeping across its surface.
Once we leave Silverwood Lake behind us, we find ourselves crossing the spillway for an enormous dam, and then climbing again up into the bare mountains. Gunshots are echoing through the gulches, and we watch as a herd of deer sprint across the trail and over the crest of the hills, hopefully to safety.
The more miles we progress, the louder the gunfire. We dip down into a lush canyon, and then start to climb again on trail that hugs the canyon wall. The shots are terrifyingly close, and when we round a corner, we see the source: there’s a group of pickup trucks parked below us, with several people standing in a half circle, and taking turns shooting, but they’re shooting towards the trail. Cheese screams down to them, waving her hands. They instantly look up, and wave back. They stop what they’re doing, and we hurry to get out of there.
At an outcropping, we see our friend from before, who looks startled from having to endure the situation. Thankfully, the rest of the day remains relatively quiet.
By dusk, we’re out of water, and we stop in the jungle-like canyon of the Mojave River to get water. The river is flowing out of a large culvert pipe, which also seems to be the home of thousands of bats. As we’re filtering, the bats are swooping over our heads, and Cheesy Puff and I agree that since rabies doesn’t sound like the party we’re after, we should get the hell out of Dodge. We walk a couple more miles in the cool forest, before settling into a spot beside the river further on.
As I’m pitching my tent, I notice loads of food wrappers scattered about, and there seems to be a commotion in the bushes directly behind us. I put my money on raccoons, and decide my best course of action is to sleep with my food for the night. I eat my dinner and get cozy inside my bag, doing my nightly rituals of taking a bath with baby wipes, and massaging any part of me that hurts. There’s a loud crash in the bushes outside, along the bank of the river, followed by the splash of something either jumping, or falling, into the water. I sit still listening, and it seems that whatever it was, it was big and it made it to the other side.
Sometime later in the night, I wake up to the same sound again, but I can’t be bothered to see what is going on.
Day 108: Mojave River to Little Bear Spring, 27 miles
Very early in the morning, before the sun is up, I’m awoken to the sounds of voices passing by our campsite. They’re loud, hollering and hooting as they go. It’s far too early for a party. We pack up in the dark, as we have a rare treat today and we want ample time to appreciate it: Deep Creek Hot Springs.
We climb out of the river canyon, leaving our little jungle oasis behind and walking high along the canyon walls of Deep Creek. The hot springs ahead seems to be no secret, as the miles we put in to get there are littered with beer cans, broken glass, and crude, racist words spray painted on the rocks. Ugly words tarnishing such a beautiful place.
Within a mile of the hot springs, we’re startled by more gunshots, and it’s nearby. We round a corner, and I step aside to let the two hunters pass. They’re head to toe in neon orange, and the man leading is carrying a rifle. I take issue with the man trailing him, though, and I’m certain he was the one that was just shooting recklessly into the canyon. He’s holding a hand gun, finger on the trigger and pointed down towards the legs of his friend. Not only that, but across the canyon is a fairly large group of people riding dirt bikes. Was he just firing willy-nilly into what he assumed was just an empty void? My goodness. I take no issue with responsible hunters, but this is madness!
Finally we reach the hot springs, and it’s quiet and still, and I feel relief washing over me the second we step foot along the banks of the creek. Pools have been formed here, with rocks built up to make bathing areas. Cheese and I toss our gear aside and strip down, and wade into the deliciously warm pool. It’s so soothing, and I want to stay here forever. My muscles, as well as my mind, have needed this.
We stay for a while, as we have the pool to ourselves. Once the sun floods the adjacent sandy beach, where there’s several tents, campers begin to stir and make their way to the pools. Once we hear EDM music, we take this is as our cue to dip out, and we grab our things and dry off. We sit in the sun for a bit, watching the comings and goings, and having more coffee, naturally. Just as we’re about to actually pack it up and leave, a young man that we had passed earlier in the morning approaches me and asks where the PCT is. I point back up to the trail. “It’s there, you were already on it…when we passed you earlier.”
He nods. “Oh, really? Yeah, my friends and I just started this morning. We’re heading to Big Bear. Any idea how far it is?”
“It depends where you’re getting off of the trail, but it’s over thirty miles on from here to the first junction into town.” I’m trying not to sound like I’m lecturing, or too stern, but I’m legitimately worried about them.
“Oh wow, that’s far. I think we’re gonna camp here tonight anyway. Thanks!”
I’m a little stunned. Who sets out on a trail not knowing the mileage they have to accomplish? What about food and water? Do they have enough to get them through?
Cheesy Puff and I leave, just as more people are trickling onto the beach. It’s getting hotter by the minute, and we want to do a fairly big day to put us closer to Big Bear. The trail continues up high above the creek, hugging precariously steep slopes with loose earth. With every other step, loose sand and rocks go tumbling down, and I get dizzy watching it. We encounter more day hikers, the closer we get to a parking lot, and one such group appears to be a youth outing with an adult leader, asking us where the trail goes. No one has a water bottle on them, or day packs for that matter, and it’s doing my nerves in. Cheese tells them the trail goes all the way Canada, and the leader laughs nervously. The kids look scared.
At a bend in the trail, we pass the NOBO 300 mile mark, and do a mini celebration with dancing.
Further on, we stop for water at an area where the creek has formed a serene pool, with a lush riparian forest surrounding it. There are people picnicking here, and when we start scooping up water, they seem horrified. A man jogs over and offers us his water, and we assure him that it’s okay, we’re filtering. We have our lunch, with the picnickers continuing to stare, and then move on.
We finally leave the crowds behind once we get past the steel bridge over Deep Creek, and then we’re smack dab back in the middle of high desert with searing heat. Thankfully, evening is closing in and the temperatures are mellowing out the more we walk.
The sun is fading fast, and we have our minds set on reaching a stock camp at Little Bear Spring. We watch a fiery sunset from atop a ridge, and then keep going into pine forest. We’re both nearly out of water now, and with the sun gone, it’s getting chilly very fast. Into the darkness we go, letting our headlamps light the way for us.
Finally, we make it to the spring, where there’s already two guys cowboy camping. They’re very welcoming, and eager to talk trail as we squeeze our tents into the site. I can see my breath as I’m rushing to get my tent pitched, and quickly bundle up after I crawl inside. They continue chatting with us while we snuggle down into our bags, and I snack on some peanut butter. I’m sleepy, and start fading out even though they’re still talking, and I eventually just pass out without any memory as to what the conversation was about.
Day 109: Little Bear Springs to Big Bear, 20 miles
I wake up to Cheese having a full on conversation with our two camp mates, and I wonder how anyone can be so full of life first thing. They’re discussing the pit toilet up the hill, and Cheese says she’s going to go check it out. I crawl out of my tent, and they offer me some hot coffee.
“I’d love some, thank you!” I try to sound chipper, but I’m still noticeably groggy.
It’s freezing outside, and I stay bundled as I shake the thick layer of frost from my tent. Cheese returns from the toilet, saying it’s the best one on the PCT so far. I drink my first cup of coffee, which is enough motivation on my gut for me to go and see how great it is for myself. As it turns out, it really was the best.
We strip off our layers before heading out, knowing well that we’ll be sweating in just a few minutes with the climb ahead. The trail meanders through more pine forest, before eventually taking us along a ridge with a view of Big Bear Lake below.
We hurry through the first ten miles, stopping for a break at a dirt road crossing and filling up on water from a small cache. I eat the very last of my food, and wonder how I’ve managed this round of resupply so perfectly. Ahead, we take a detour around a wildfire closure, via more dirt roads, before regaining the last stretch of trail before reaching the highway that will take us into Big Bear.
Once at the highway, there’s little traffic and no one is picking us up. We decide to walk, since it’s still early in the afternoon. I’m impressed with the time we’ve made getting here. We stroll into town and I contact my friend of a friend, Big Bear Mama Carol, who’s offered to put us up for the night at her place. She texts me back to let me know she’s still at work, but she’ll pick us up in town later.
Cheesy Puff and I walk along the boardwalk into town, a structure that sits above a dry lake bed, laughing at the no swimming signs. This lake hasn’t had water in it for a very long time, as is evidenced by the tall grass growing throughout. We pop into a Subway and order up a couple of foot long subs, and devour them in minutes. Carol picks us up shortly after, and takes us to her favorite watering hole so she can watch a football game and introduce us to her boyfriend.
Carol is so lovely, buying us a round of pina coladas, something we’ve been dreaming about since finding coconut flavored Starburst candies on the ground in the High Sierra. Once the game is over and our enormous cocktails are finished, she whisks us away to her cute little cabin, where we get to have a hot shower, meet her adorable pups and tortoise, and do some laundry. Once we’re clean, she insists on taking us back into town, where we resupply at the supermarket and then go out for pizza and beer with her boyfriend. I feel so utterly spoiled, I’m actually flustered. Why is everyone I meet on this trail so darn good to me?
After dinner, she takes us to the neighboring fudge shop, where the spoiling doesn’t end, and where I get a piece of white chocolate bark to take back to the trail with me. Back at her cabin, we throw the rest of our stinky clothes in the wash while Carol provides us some pyjamas to wear to bed for the night.
Amazingly, we’ve found our way into a warm bed again, and I can’t stop smiling, even as I drift off.
Day 110: Big Bear to Saddle Tent Site, 18 miles
In the morning, Carol has left us to our own devices as she’s been called into work unexpectedly, and I make some coffee and lay my tent out to dry in the driveway. As we’re shoving the ridiculous amount of resupply into our packs, Carol’s neighbor, Misty comes over and says she’s taking us out to breakfast, because we need to get a good meal in us before we head back out. She doesn’t have to convince us anymore, and we grab our things.
The three of us head to Thelma’s, the diner where carol is a server, and I wolf down a pile of cinnamon pecan french toast and share an order of hash browns with Cheesy. This, of course, is washed down with buckets of coffee that I’m likely going to pay the consequences of later.
We say our goodbyes, and Misty drives us back up the highway to the trail. It’s another hot day, and we begin our somewhat gentle ascent, feeling stagnant after having too much sugar. Cheesy Puff is also trying to eat the rest of her Talenti Gelato as she walks, which she eventually abandons in a cathole, save for the container of course, for future cold soaking.
We cross dusty landscape, void of any trees and shade, for quite some time before entering pine forest again. Once we’re deep in the woods, the air is much more brisk than before. More climbing, and a stumble resulting in a scraped knee, and we’re feeling the pain of heavy packs from our recent resupply run. We find a water cache near the trail junction for Onyx Summit, and have a quick break where I devour a Pop Tart in a feeble attempt to chip away at that extra weight. I’m feeling tired, and terribly clumsy. What is this fatigue and pain stemming from? Menstruation? Lack of sleep? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s making my brain cloudy and my feet wobbly.
We pass by the old movie ranch where big, retired exotic animals were once housed in cages beside the trail. The animals are long gone now, and the ranch is for sale, which I’m glad for. I had been dreading seeing these animals in cages, with no shade or freedom, and was unsure how it would affect my emotional state. A few miles further on, just as it’s getting dark, we decide to make camp on top of a ridge. There’s a nice clearing within some manzanita shrubs and boulders, although it is already freezing at this elevation.
I snuggle down into my bag, watching a Netflix show I’ve downloaded and eating some fatty peanut butter to help keep me warm. My eyes are heavy, and I give up on my entertainment to doze off.
Day 111: Saddle Tent Site to White Water Creek, 28 miles
It’s another frozen morning, first shaking the ice off our gear and then leaving our camp in the saddle down to a dirt road, only to start climbing again. In 2016, this area was closed from wildfire damage, and it was a tedious bypass via bus from White Water Reserve to Big Bear. This is all new to me, and so far the scenery of the San Bernardino Mountains isn’t disappointing.
We ramble through pine forest for some time, on soft trail until we reach our first water source of the day at dirt road and stock camp. We lay out our tents on the corral to dry out, and search for the spring and trough in question. After scouting the area for a bit, and following a green patch, I locate the cement trough, which is filled with slimy, stagnant water. Once I’m satisfied with the dryness of my tent, we head out again, following switchbacks through the charred burn that had this section closed.
The trail is hard to follow, and is lost beneath overgrown grass, fallen trees and several wash-outs for some time. We use Guthooks to guide us, until we reach the flowing Mission Creek. We hide from the sun for a while here, eating lunch in the green oasis that the creek has provided.
The trail follows the creek for several more miles through a deep canyon, before departing for more uphill that will eventually take us to the Whitewater River. We’re pushing hard now, trying to get to the river bank before dark. A big, beautiful full moon is on the rise, slowly creeping over the shadowy mountains. My feet are aching immensely from my heavy pack, and I can’t wait to stop for the day.
We reach camp after dark, walking the last couple of miles by headlamp. The river bed is massive, as is the canyon it’s deep within, but the flow itself is low due to lack of snow melt and rain this late in the hiking season. We ford it easily, and make camp on a sand bar on the other side. The moon is shining bright now, to the point where we barely need our lights to pitch our tents.
Once I’m in bed, I give my feet a good rub down and eat some dinner and dessert, and then lay down. The moon’s silvery light is illuminating the inside of the tent, and I wish I had an eye mask to block it out. Instead, I just roll over and bury my head beneath the plush cover of my bag.
Day 112: White Water Creek to Ridge Campsite, 23 miles
It’s still dark when we rise, but the moon is still going strong and aiding us while we break camp. Once the sun is up, it doesn’t take long to remind us that we are back in the desert. It’s blistering hot once we begin our long downhill into the Whitewater Preserve, where signs warning about violent feral dogs has us a bit on edge.
At the bottom of the river canyon, we enter another wind farm, where the employees have created a bit of refuge for hikers with bottled water and shade provided by a thatched roof hut. We sit there for a bit, eating an early lunch and chugging a couple of bottles of water each. One of the engineers wanders over and chats us up, and lets us use the WiFi so we can download more books.
We follow a dirt road for a couple of miles before getting back on the trail again, crossing the sun-scorched desert past a neighborhood. On the outskirts of the neighborhood, is an apparent dumping ground for any and all trash; a sight that makes my skin crawl.
We pass under the I-10 freeway, where someone has left some water, and I fill up on another liter. It’s as hot as I’d imagine a desert to be, even in October. On the other side of the freeway, we have to cross a wide open plain of soft, searing sand and scraggly sage brush, using Guthooks to route find our way to the paved road ahead.
The trail takes us through another neighborhood, gated and sitting in the shadow on Mount San Jacinto. We’ll be tackling this mountain soon enough, but first we decide to deal with this heat with the only way possible: sleep through it. After a brutally exposed road walk up Snow Canyon Road to get back to the trail, we find some shade under a boulder, where there’s a functioning water spigot provided for PCT hikers.
We take our time resting, drenching our clothes in the water from the spigot and eating Starburst candy and red licorice. Yet, something isn’t quite right; there’s an awful smell, and after we rule out that it isn’t either one of us, I notice a sandy lump near my foot. It’s a pile of shit, human feces in fact, that has been very poorly covered in thin layer of sand. We’re both furious. The only shade in sight and someone had to poop right here? What kind of a monster does this?
We pack up our things quickly, fuming with anger. One last soak in the water spigot, and we’re off, back into the arid heat. Thankfully, we find another spot less than a mile up the trail, beneath two large boulders that have formed a sort of cave. It’s actually quite lovely once we’ve crawled into it, with an opening on the far side looking out onto the valley. We lay out our Tyvek sheets, and relax watching some Netflix and dozing in and out of sleep.
Cheesy Puff and I wait until sun is far west, and the trail is under the shadow of the peak. It’s still fairly hot once we set out again, but much more realistic to walk in. I finish listening to ‘Annihilation’ while I’m huffing and puffing up the incline, with Cheese in the lead. At the 200 mile mark, we pause for a break, and then pause again just ahead to ogle another tarantula that’s meandering up the trail.
Into the night we walk, fast-paced, with the city lights and wind farm sparkling below us against a magenta sunset. We make camp on a narrow saddle, not wanting to continue on in the dark too much further. There’s a bit of wind that’s picked up, but we’re mostly blocked by the surrounding manzanita. The rustling of the bushes helps me along into a deep sleep.
Day 113: Ridge Campsite to Idyllwild, 20 miles
The sun is fresh on the horizon when we break camp and set off, making our way up San Jacinto and towards the town of Idyllwild. We’re faced with another water-less day, lugging the few liters we have remaining from the day before, up this enormous climb. For several miles, I only sip on water as I struggle with the incline, and according to the water report, there’s nothing until we reach town.
Once we start nearing the top of our climb, along Fuller Ridge, the views become pretty epic: the vast desert floor of the Sonora Desert near Palm Springs to the east, peppered with wind turbines, meeting the dramatic peaks of the San Jacinto range, with the San Bernardino mountains to the north. We enter the state park, and keep pushing until we reach a trailhead parking area with picnic tables, where we stop for a break.
I eat the rest of my candy that’s on hand, sharing the picnic table with a blood stained jacket. At first I don’t notice the blood, but once I use a stick to investigate, I see the splatter, everywhere. I hope that it’s only from a recent hunter, butchering his kill in the field and then accidentally leaving the coat behind. I don’t tamper with it any further though, and we push on. Let’s pray there’s not a serial killer afoot along Fuller Ridge.
Despite the massive amount of climbing we had to do throughout the morning, we reach the Devil’s Slide Trail fairly early in the afternoon, taking it down into town. This is the official wildfire bypass to a bypass, as is stated on the PCTA website. A very recent wildfire closed the detour form a previous wildfire, which has put all of us southbounders in an interesting spot. We’ll have to hitch around via the highway, but first, we’ll resupply and enjoy the creature comforts of town.
The road walk into Idyllwild isn’t very enjoyable, as most road walking goes, but we head straight to the brewery once we’ve arrived, to fill up on decadent food and craft beer. I order a round of tacos and nachos, and a Belgian tripel to wash it down. After our late lunch/early dinner, I run to the post office across the parking lot, and Cheesy Puff buys her resupply from the local grocery store.
We decide to just relax at a coffee shop in the center of town for the remainder of the evening, where we charge up our electronics and make use of the WiFi, and consume entirely too much cold brew coffee. Around closing time, we head over to the state park and make camp in the probably the worst hiker site I’ve ever experienced. The site is on a hill next to the busy highway, with the pitches sloped and uncomfortably positioned. The state park must not think very highly of hikers, and I regret spending the $5 to camp here. We end up finding a better, more level area behind another unoccupied site, despite the sign telling us not to impede upon it.
I lay in my tent listening to music, trying to drown out the constant traffic that’s flying by just behind me. Sleep doesn’t come easily, and I realize how much more I prefer camping in the wild to this bullshit.
Day 114: Idyllwild to Tent Site, 21 Miles
In the morning, we pack up and head back to the coffee shop in town for some more java and a light breakfast. I devour another cold brew and a huge muffin, and then go back for seconds so I can let my electronics charge some more. After a hikertrash-style bath in the bathroom sink, we walk down the highway to the outskirts of town to begin our hitch around the closure.
The hitchhiking doesn’t go well, with luxury cars speeding up to get past us without making eye contact. After about an hour, a nice local man finally pulls over and offers us a ride to the Paradise Valley Cafe, where he’s taken many hikers before. We happily accept and pile in, and we get to see first hand the devastation of the fire that ripped through the valley just weeks ago.
At the cafe, we situate our gear and walk up the highway and back to the trail. It’s hot and dusty, and there’s no shade along this stretch of the trail. I’m feeling sluggish, weighted down with more water and food, and I’m certainly ready to be done with the trail at this point. I feel bad for feeling this way, as I have nothing for love for the PCT.
We come to a magical little water cache, with a sort of shrine to John Muir, Walt Whitman and Henry Thoreau, as well as a Little Free Library, proudly exclaiming ‘books you don’t need in a place you can’t find them,’ and offering used books and print outs of John Muir’s Wilderness Essays. There’s also shade and a water tank, both of which we’re desperate for in this hellfire heat, and we settle in under a juniper and have a late lunch.
We spend a fair amount of time here, avoiding the harsh sun at all costs and eating as much food as my gut will allow. Once we’re satiated and our water bottles are full and filtered, we push on, leaving our charming little watering hole behind.
There’s little relief from the elements today, and despite my best efforts to slather on sunscreen and shade my face with my hat and bandana, I can feel my skin burning. I know it’s the desert, but why is it so hot this late in October? I could go for a bit of rain, but only a drizzle though, just enough to dowse this heat.
We skirt a winding road, and in the distance are several ‘farms’ with greenhouses, that are rumored to be illegal grow operations. As we hike into the evening, we get to our questionable last-chance water source just a few miles before camp, which is a crumbling trail side cistern. A plastic scoop attached to some string has been left, and we carefully collect water one painfully slow scoop at a time. The water has a funky smell and color, and I hate to think about what dead things are floating in there. We spend some time under the shade of another juniper tree, eating our dinners and talking about what’s ahead. As the sun washes the hills in the golden light of the evening, we set out again towards camp.
We arrive to camp in the dark, under starry skies. It’s not an ideal place to pitch a tent, as there really is no flat ground, but we make do. Thankfully it is better than our previous spot in the state park in Idyllwild, and far less sloped. Sounds of creatures in the bushes continue as I settle into my bag and eat a few snacks before bed, but it isn’t enough to keep me up.
We’re only a handful of days from finishing this thing, and I can’t wait.
Day 115: Tent Site to Warner Springs, 22 miles
We push off with first light, hiking the few miles until we reach the turnoff for Mike’s Place, a sort of off-grid trail angel compound randomly located in the middle of nowhere. It’s quiet here, and no one seems to be at home, so we sit in the provided lawn chairs opposite the water tank and have our breakfasts. We fill up on water, leave a small donation in the collection box and continue on. The trail is still shaded from the sun, cool and comfortable, thanks to the rising hills surrounding us.
Once the sun is up, and punishing us with its intense, unavoidable heat, we’re forced to find refuge under a patch of trees on the pin turn of a switchback. It’s too hot to go forward, and we’re in complete misery. However, I’m surprised at how we’ve managed to come in the morning hours, so we have plenty of time to kill and enjoy a bit of shade before suffering our way towards the next destination.
Further on, our next water source proves fruitless, and we avoid searching further down the creek bed for stagnant pools due to a warning sign left by a previous hiker: ‘I looked for water ahead, but turned back because of several rattlesnakes.’
Thanks, but no thanks.
Cheesy Puff and I each have a single liter left, and attempt to make that last. But we’re unsure if the next place will have any water, since the last update on the water report is over one week old.
The trail descends into a valley, which is pleasantly forested with oak trees and an abundance of other shade-providing vegetation. It’s buggy, but far cooler than the inferno we had encountered earlier. We thankfully find a slow trickle coming from a spring, and are able to fill up there. I splash some water on my face, and then wet my bandana to cool off.
The trail through the forest is short-lived, but mush appreciated, and we find ourselves crossing a flat plain with free range cattle, who stare at us with slight confusion and curiosity as we go. Just past the herd, I see a short, stocky creature heading up the trail towards us, and my first thought goes to ‘what kind of dog is that?’ When it suddenly sees us, it diverts and sprints across the field, and I realize that it’s a bobcat, and I’m ecstatic at this sighting.
We arrive at the hiker friendly Warner Springs Community Center in the evening, on the cusp of sundown. No one is around, but a sign says we’re allowed to camp beneath the gigantic oak tree. We pitch our tents, and then make the hasty decision to walk to the gas station down the busy highway to get some treats.
We get to the gas station just as it’s getting dark, and scoop up some ice-cold sodas and burritos to microwave. The woman running the cash register is incredibly warm and welcoming, telling us to take our time and enjoy our meals, despite closing up shop for the night. I wolf down the burrito and soda, and then buy some donuts and an iced coffee to have for my breakfast the next day. She then offers us a ride back to the Community Center, so we don’t have to walk the highway in the dark.
Back at camp, we discover another hiker, who we haven’t met has arrived, but he mostly keeps to himself. Cheesy Puff and I bathe ourselves in the restrooms, and I wash my hair in the sink for the first time since Big Bear, as well as washing all my hiking clothes. After hanging my clothes on the provided clothes line, we go to bed with full stomachs and (mostly) clean bodies.
As we entered the desert of Southern California and saw a drastic increase in temperatures, I decided to send my sleeping bag liner home from Idyllwild. I had wanted to carry in through San Jacinto State Park, as the elevation is significantly higher there than other parts of the desert and it can get pretty windy and cold. This was something I had experienced on my 2016 NOBO thru-hike, and I wanted to be prepared. But once I was past this area and with less than 200 miles left, I knew I likely wouldn’t need it anymore and wanted to finish with as little extra weight as possible.
Something to note regarding my Six Moons Design Lunar Solo Tent, or rather Cheesy Puff’s tent (we have the same tent): The zipper on her tent started to fail somewhere in the High Sierra, and progressively got worse as we went. She used several methods of trying to clean it, including wiping it down with alcohol wipes, and nothing really seemed to do the trick. My zipper started sticking around the time we reached Warner Springs, but it wasn’t as painful as what my dear hiking partner was going through. I had mentioned in a previous post about the zipper on my Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket failing, and the company was gracious enough to replace it with a new coat. I haven’t reached out to Six Moons regarding my zipper, and no word on if they’re going to repair Cheesy Puff’s. Moral of the story: take care of your zippers on the PCT, they’re likely to not survive the rigor you put them through.
For an itemized list of the gear I’m using on the PCT, please visit my gear post here.
Until next time, happy trails!