(I wrote this post a while ago but for some reason it is not syncing with my phone so I cannot add pictures at this time. I will try to fix this later if possible, but I don’t know if it will work.)
I left Big Bear City with Horizon and Merkel. Captain Deadweight decided to spend the night at the hostel in town so our group of four shrunk to three. Originally we were just going to hike a few miles down the trail and then camp, but Horizon wanted to go a bit further to a creek to spend the night so we ended up hiking through the twilight hours and into the time when a headlamp is needed to see. I thought Horizon was ahead of me, and after it was dark for some time I decided to set up camp near a dilapidated picnic table. A few text messages revealed that I had gotten ahead of him and Merkel when he pulled off the trail, so I camped alone for the first time and had a nice time chatting with Jacob then falling asleep watching the stars.
I awoke early the next morning and hiked by myself the entire day. I was feeling good and “ate some miles for breakfast” as we joke on the trail. I encountered my first Joshua trees on the PCT and also hiked across a huge rock slide that seemed like a ankle twister.
I passed through a horse camp with one lone hiker just breaking camp and I chatted with him for a while. He’s called Papa Bear and this is his third time hiking the trail. He’s retired and lives in Carson City, Nevada most of the year (when he’s not hiking). He said he was headed to the hot springs that day and asked me if I was headed there too. I thought it was a bit too far for one day, but said that I would see him there the day after.
The morning took me through some pine trees which were nice, but the afternoon brought me to an old fire zone which was bare and deserted.
I was feeling a bit lonely so when I came upon a small river, I hung out there for a few hours, thinking that one of my friends would catch up. It was lovely to wash my feet and legs in the cold mountain water and to get the dust out of my socks. I had lunch then read for nearly two hours but no one approached. Finally I decided to carry on alone and continued my hike.
I contoured along on the very narrow trail, several hundred feet above the valley floor. Looking down on the rocks along the river was very scenic, but could have given someone a sense of vertigo. It was a long way down and one misstep could result in a very long fall.
The long valley seemed never ending. I hiked up it for most of the afternoon and early evening. I didn’t see many good places to camp and it seemed too difficult to get down to the river where there were nice sandy sites so I continued on, knowing that the trail would provide a place to sleep when I needed it.
Just when I was on the verge of losing hope of finding a place during the day, and not wanting to hike on the narrow trail at night, I spied a small flat spot up a gully and made camp for the night.
In the past few days I have been much better about setting up my dinner to re-hydrate for an hour or more (instead of 15 minutes) and it has really made a difference in the quality of my meals. I also had a lot of wonderful goodies from my care package from Aunt Patty and Uncle Hank to enjoy and I gorged myself on several sweet things.
I was only four miles from the hot springs and made it there before breakfast. I was so glad that I didn’t push through to there the night before because shortly after I arrived, several park officials came through and ticketed everyone they saw in a sleeping bag. It’s illegal to sleep within a mile of the hot springs but a lot of people ignore that rule and camp out there anyway. Several of them were in for a rude awakening that day. I talked to a local guy who said that the patrol usually only comes out on the weekend (it was a Saturday) when it gets really crowded to prevent the place from getting too trashed.
I enjoyed a short soak in a pool that had been made to collect the hot water, but with the hot sun shining down it soon became too warm. After an hour or so, Horizon, the Jolly Green Giant, and Merkel caught up and we were reunited again. It was great to see them and hear about their adventures from the past few days so I hiked with them the rest of the day and enjoyed the company.
After leaving the hot springs, we contoured down another valley with a large river flowing in the bottom and were amazed at the number of people we saw. I had forgotten that it was a Saturday and apparently we had discovered where everyone goes to cool off in the spring and summer. We saw entire families trudging uphill, carrying coolers, grills, babies, and all sorts of paraphernalia, ready to enjoy the day at the river where the cold water was free and the sun was blocked by the trees.
We avoided the hordes (i.e. any group of more than ten people) by continuing on past a large dam and stopping in the shade near a different creek for lunch.
While we were relaxing and letting our dusty socks air dry, another hiker came up and chatted with us for a bit. Cameron has been hiking for seven weeks and started in New Mexico then walked across Arizona and hooked up with the PCT in Big Bear City. He’s going to Canada then will hike to the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail and hike back to where he started. He’s already done the PCT 1.3 times and the AT as well. He’s 22. He was great to talk to, but left us after just a short break.
In the afternoon we had another strange sighting: a huge wall made of stone. It was so bizarre and out in the middle of nowhere that I was flabbergasted as to it’s purpose until a few hours later when we had hiked around to it’s other side and we discovered that it was a dam, creating a large lake.
The lake was a beautiful sight after so much dry and dusty ground. The trail didn’t actually take us down to the lake shore, but watching the wind create tiny white caps and seeing the fishermen along the shore was great.
That night the four of us (Horizon, Merkel, Jolly, and myself) camped in an actual campground where we could eat at a picnic table and use a restroom with flush toilets and running water. Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference.
The next day we started climbing up through the mountains and made it to Cajon pass, where there is a McDonald’s just 0.4 miles from the trail. We had made it to mile 342, which is half way through the desert!
When we got there we found Cameron, whom we had met the day before, and some other hikers. We all ordered food and the Jolly Green Giant got a triple cheese burger and 40 McNuggets. He already has the hiker hunger and eats a lot, although sometimes I suspect that he does things like this for the attention.
After Cajon pass there is a 25 mile section with no water and we had a long and dusty climb so we hung out at McDonald’s for several hours then hung out in the shade tree in the parking lot for a few more hours. Finally, around 4:30 pm when the worst of the heat was over, we headed off. We passed under I-15 (through a tube) then across a large valley filled with sandstone and small brush.
Once we reached the other side of the valley, we started to climb. Our goal was to hike another 12-14 miles, but it was consistent uphill the entire time and after hiking for an hour in the dark, we were all pretty tired. At 9 pm, Horizon, who was in the lead, found a place big enough for the four of us and we all happily stopped for the night. Our campsite was not the flattest place, but it was comfortable and we all slept hard until sunrise.
Even after over eight miles that afternoon and gaining several thousand feet of elevation, we had a long way up to climb. I got an early start the next day and hiked with Jolly throughout the morning as we hiked through switchback after switchback, slowly making our way through the mountains. We had almost 16 miles to go to get to Highway 2 and a hitch into the town of Wrightwood and the morning really dragged for me. The scenery was very pretty with the mountains in the distance and a cool wind blowing us on, but I needed some dance music to get me through some of it. We passed into the Angeles National forest and got to an elevation high enough for a few patches of snow to linger. Jolly and I left a message for Horizon and Merkel, who were behind us.
We also came to the edge of a ski run and hiked beneath one of the lifts. A blue run near there is called “the crest trail”.
When we finally got to the highway I wondered how difficult it would be to get a lift into town since we didn’t see any cars in either direction for five minutes, but then the first truck going our way stopped and picked us up. Jolly and I got a lift into Wrightwood from a very nice older man and his dog. By the end of this trip I will have a lot of karma to pay forward!