Day 22 – 24: Big Bear City to Silverwood Lake Picnic Area
Miles 266.1 – 326.3
Two of the four latches on the swivel belt of my Arcteryx backpack had broken and I was concerned the belt would break soon. I contacted Arcteryx about my warranty and was told it would take 4-6 weeks to be serviced. Informing them I was living on trail out of my pack, they then suggested I super glue the belt to the pack until I finished. Dismayed and disappointed, I decided to switch the pack out with my old Osprey Atmos 65. The one bright point was that the switch would reduce my pack weight by a pound. My family shipped my Osprey and with a new (old) pack, an ankle brace, and a couple days rest I left Big Bear. Combined with everyone’s positive thoughts and prayers my ankle was feeling better and I was anxious to get on the road.
Most of my hiking bubble had left the day before and I wanted to catchup as quickly as possible. I planned to hike 20 mile days until caught up and was feeling strong midway through the first day. Managing to hike my 10 by 10 (10 miles by 10 AM), I was in a good position to make the 20 miles.
However, by noon I knew I had a problem. Apparently I’d stopped using my old pack for a reason. The frame was slightly bent making the bottom protrude into my back causing an uncomfortable rubbing. Worse, the waist straps have extenders held in place with velcro. The velcro wasn’t holding resulting in the belt loosening and forcing my shoulders to carry the majority of my pack weight. The cumulative effect of this would be brutal over the next week. I pushed through the 20 mile day making camp at Holcomb Creek.
The next day was a challenge as I had to rest my shoulders every 4-5 miles. I eventually made my way to Deep Creek, which marks the beginning of a beautiful canyon stretch covering 15 miles. The sandy trail traverses the canyon hundreds of feet above the glistening river below. As someone with a slight fear of heights, I needed to continually reassure myself that my footing was solid and I needn’t worry about stumbling off the narrow trail into the chasm. The continuous height and peril of the trail, lack of water, and picturesque sandy beaches below made me wish the trail ran along the bottom of the canyon instead. The end of my second straight 20 mile day rewarded me with a campsite in a sandy oasis near a stream.
The third day began wonderfully. Two miles from the campsite was Deep Creek Hot Springs. I was originally planning on skipping the springs in order to make more miles but once I arrived, I knew I had to have a dip. It would be great to get cleaned up and soak my weary body. The hot tub temperature water was a delight and I spent a couple hours enjoying myself before forcing myself back on trail.
The swim had derailed my hiking schedule and I knew I’d have to push hard to make my daily 20. Unfortunately, my pack was wrecking havoc on my body. Struggling 15 miles in, I ran into Jan a Swiss hiker that shares the same PCT start date. He informed me if we made the 20 miles we’d be able to order pizza from the picnic area on Silverwood Lake. Sometimes it’s the small things that carry you through the day and the thought of pizza was needed motivation to endure the pain in my shoulders and sweltering heat.
I hiked the remainder of the day with Jan and as we approached the 20 mile mark at the lake picnic area it became clear there were no roads for a delivery driver. It was already dusk as we looked over our maps to see where we could possibly get a pizza delivered. We were disheartened to discover a second picnic area two miles down the road was the pizza delivery site. Exhausted, we accepted our defeat and opted not to hike the extra miles. We turned to our dehydrated food next to the cold windy lake and were swarmed by gnats.
Day 25: Silverwood Lake Picnic Area to Cajon Pass
Miles 326.3 – 341.9
The next day would be a good day. I’d arrive In Cajon Pass, site of the I-15 McDonald’s. Typically I hate McDonald’s, but these golden arches were different. I don’t know a hiker that wasn’t looking forward to stuffing as many burgers, fries, and shakes into their bodies as humanly possible.
But first, I’d have to deal with my pack. I assumed I’d need to buy a new one so I’d been asking everyone how they liked their packs. Before shelling out an extra $300 I hadn’t budgeted for, I decided to contact Osprey. The response I received was unreal. They understood my dilemma and said if I could made it into an Osprey reseller they’d have them exchange it for free on the spot. I was ecstatic. I’d heard there was an REI 15 miles from Cajon Pass that I could hitch into that same day. Arcteryx, I love your company but take note. One of your competitors is making amazing packs for less than half the price and going above and beyond to take care of their customers. Osprey, I love you and will shout your praise from mountain tops across the country. Thank you.
I crawled into the Cajon Pass McDonald’s to see something I’ll never forget. 50+ stinky, dirty hikers had taken over the McDonald’s. With packs and trekking poles strewn across the lobby, phones charging in every outlet, and non-hikers entering with pinched noses there was barely room to walk let alone sit. I was greeted with smiles and salutations from so many friends I’d met over last 300+ miles, including Francoise who I hadn’t seen since Big Bear. I was informed Christine and Julia “Hungry” had caught a hitch into REI in Rancho Cucamonga and would be back soon.
Before I had a chance to order food, I learned another Angel was giving hikers a ride to the REI but I’d have to leave immediately if I wanted to go. I desperately wanted my pack exchanged so I took the opportunity. I walked into REI and was told Osprey had arranged everything so I could grab another pack despite not purchasing it from REI. Again thank you Osprey and thank you REI for just being rad!!!
By the time I caught a hitch with an REI employee back to Cajon most of the hikers had left including Francoise, Christine, and Hungry. The next section featured a 22 mile waterless stretch up a mountain and the temperature was predicted to be in the 90’s motivating most hikers to get a start that evening. I needed to pickup a resupply package I’d previously sent myself to the Best Western Inn a half mile down the road, so I took a few minutes to eat prior to heading off.
Day 26 – 27: Cajon Pass to Wrightwood
Miles 341.9 – 369.3
I arrived at the Cajon Pass Best Western Inn hoping for a room but was informed The Tour of California was taking place and the hotel had been reserved for The Tour staff. However they said we could camp in their parking lot and if we hosed off we could use the hot tub and pool. The parking lot kind of sucked since it was a gravel lot adjacent to the freeway. The Tour had parked numerous moving trucks in the parking lot that would be heading out at 5 AM. We’d have to be careful we didn’t get run over. The hot tub on the other hand, was spectacular! The staff was amazing and they gave me my packages free of charge. Included in the packages was a new sleeping pad from Thermarest to replace the leaky one I’d been using for the last 150 miles. Thank you Best Western!
I woke up at 4 AM prepared for a difficult day. It was going to be a hot 22 mile hike gaining more than 5k ft. in elevation. I would be carrying 6 days food and 7.5 liters of water. That’s approximately 30 lbs. of food and water on top of my gear.
I stopped at the Del Taco on my way out for possibly my worst breakfast ever. A poor start to a long day. It was a long hard slow moving day spent on a narrow path that veered off to what could be a deadly fall with the slightest misstep. At times I’d be in a zone and forget what I was doing. Periodically the view of the cliff would bring me to attention. I’d look down, calculate the chance of survival should I slip as well as the possibility of regaining the trail carrying a 50+ lb. pack should I survive the fall. Forcing myself to refocus, I’d proceed more cautiously.
I’d transitioned from using a Camelback hydration system to using Smart Water bottles connected to my Sawyer filter. The rationale was twofold. First, if my 3 liter water bladder broke in the desert, I would be in trouble. Second, using multiple 1 liter bottles allows for better water management. I’d no longer be surprised that I’d drank more than I was expecting. The trade-off was a loss of convenience. Instead of sipping water from a hose, I’d need to reach into my pack to grab a bottle. It also results in my fear of dropping the bottle and filter off a mountain as I attempt to return the bottle to my pack. I only made 15 miles that day before finding a relatively flat spur off the trail.
The next morning I reached the summit as I ran out of water. A few miles of ridge walking led me to Guffy Spring and to my delight, water. The remaining 6 miles to the town of Wrightwood were quick and easy.
Now Wrightwood is an interesting town. The residents are lovely. From the fine people at the hardware store wearing PCT shirts to the clerks at the gas station who also wore PCT shirts and offered hikers a free hot dog, the people were a delight. While the hostils also had nice people running them, I think the most appropriate word to describe them is eccentric.
The two lodging options I became aware of were, 1.) stay at the local spa which was run by a woman that kept a pig in the kitchen and practiced shooting guns in the backyard or 2.) stay at a non-listed hostil run by a self-proclaimed web mogul that liked to host drug fueled raves. I really only wanted a shower, to do some laundry, and get a good nights sleep. I deliberated over the decision until night and reluctantly opted for option 2. I had an interesting conversation with the owner in between doing chores including an informative talk about how magcal (magnesium-calcium pills) cures everything from drug withdrawal to hiker woes.
The next morning I grabbed breakfast at the cafe before heading out. I was pleasantly surprised to run into Francois. I was informed Christine and Hungry had just headed back to trail. I had caught my bubble.
Day 28 – 32: Wrightwood to Vasquez Rocks County Park
Miles 369.3 – 452.9
The day I left Wrightwood I’d be climbing Mt. Baden-Powell. It would be another challenging climb but the views were stellar and water would be available from a spring halfway up. I crushed the approach and took a break at the trailhead where I found magic in the form of water and trail mix. As I prepared to summit I was greeted from Christine who was just arriving. She mentioned that her and Hungry had seen me when I was dropped off after hitching from town but I couldn’t hear them over my headphones.
Climbing Mt. Baden-Powell was wonderful. Beautiful views interspersed with patches of snow kept the day interesting. Feeling good, I charged up the mountain where magnificent 360-degree views waited. After an impromptu photo shoot I began the 6 mile ridge descent towards the campsite.
Three miles down the ridge, I missed a junction turn. The trail had skirted a summit by traveling left around the peak. I’d hiked to the right and before I realized it I was 1 mile down the mountain perpendicular to the trail. I was left with the choice of hiking a mile uphill back to the junction or short cutting around the peak back to the ridge. Since the second option involved traversing across a steep sandy slope it was risky but could save me time. I was frustrated with myself and wanted to make it to camp before dark. I took the risk.
I had to climb high enough that I could traverse to the ridge. Climbing the sandy mountain gave the feel of hiking through quicksand. It was maddeningly slow and I was out of water. Finding a patch of snow, I scooped it into my water bottle which I placed in my shirt to melt the snow. I made the ridge and regained the trail but the detour cost me 2.5 hours of additional hiking.
The one bright spot is that I was treated with a spectacular sunset. Unfortunately this hasn’t been my only detour although it was the longest and most frustrating. As a result of this and the 6-7 liters of water I use everyday, I’ve accepted the trail name “Thirsty Detour.”
The next 70 miles were also gorgeous but involved various closures for endangered frogs, and poodle dog bush (a nefarious but beautiful plant that can cause a severe skin irritation). I also hiked a bit with a Canadian woman named “Murphy” or “Murph” as in Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will). I also passed the 400 mile mark and my 1 month trailaversary. In a month I’ve hiked over 400 miles while taking 6 zeroes.
The stretch finished with Christine (now known as “Dayhiker” or “Dhiker” due to her propensity to stay sparkling clean as if she’d just been out for a day hike), Hungry, and me hitting up the KOA camp to pig out on pizza and ice cream before heading into Vasquez Rocks County Park on the outskirts of Agua Dulce. Vasquez Rocks is a cool nature center displaying unusual rock formations and used in movies such as Planet of the Apes and Star Trek.
Day 33 – 34: Vasquez Rocks County Park to Agua Dulce
Miles 452.9 – 454.5
Agua Dulce is the home of the family The Saufleys. This family is trail royalty. Over the last 20 years the Saufleys have provided legendary trail magic by opening their home to PCT hikers. Their home is known as “Hiker Heaven.” For two months each year, they open their home to up to 50 hikers per day. They provide showers, laundry, camping, and a little slice of home life. They have transformed their house to make this possible with their army of volunteers. It’s truly a special place. Having been there, I can barely fathom the sacrifice and dedication they’ve displayed. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
I should also note the Saufleys home is more of a ranch with horses, chickens, and dogs so of course I found a chicken in my tent one day. I’m stoked with the new beak size holes in my mesh. The tent needed more ventilation.
I’m extremely sad to write that Dongying “Cindy” Qiu died while climbing Mt. Whitney. From what I’ve gathered she fell down a 60 ft. ice chute after separating from her group. Details appear sparse at this time but you can find more here. My heart goes out to her family and friends.
It’s difficult when anyone from the community dies and I know it’s difficult for my loved ones to think I’m at risk. Know that I treat the Sierra very seriously. I will do everything in my power to remain safe including staying with a group. I have an emergency transponder and will be using appropriate mountain gear including spikes and an axe. I will not attempt to ford any river deemed overly dangerous. Bottom line, I know this is serious and will act accordingly.
Next, I’m getting spam bombed in comments. I’ve received over 800 comments ranging in topics from “buy pharmaceutical drugs internationally,” to “sports,” to “politics.” I’m working on adjusting the spam filters so bare with me while I find a solution.
Finally, I’d like to report on another threat I’ve encountered. The vaunted “stick snake.” The stick snake has two primary methods of attack. First, the snake tricks you into thinking every stick is a possibly dangerous venomous predator distracting hikers from other threats. Second, similar to the rock snake, the stick snake has a propensity to sneak up and bite you when you’re not paying attention. For the agile hiker, this can result in a brief stumble. For the clumsy hiker, this can result in a full on yard-sale. Be careful my friends, the threat is real.