Baden-Powell May 18

Day 27

Start – Wrightwood Mile 369. 9:40 am

End – Little Jimmy Camp. Mile 384 6:00 pm

Miles -15

Most of the folks I bunked with left at 6:00 am but I had a couple more chores to do today so I had to stick around town until the hardware store and post office opened around 8:30.

After resisting dropping gear to reduce my pack weight for weeks, I finally gave in and shipped a couple items home which seemed to have dropped my weight by two pounds. I also bought some supportive inserts for my shoes to help with my arch and Achilles issues.

After taking care of that I hitched a ride with a guy named Pat back to the trail. Pat is from texas and Louisiana but moved to Wrightwood to start a cannabis dispensary. He also backpacked in the Himalayas for four months a couple years back. After he dropped me off he took another hiker back into town and I hiked the 4.5 miles to Mount Baden Powell only to find Pat heading out on his own hike up the mountain with his stereo blasting trashy dance music. So I’m giving him some time to get ahead so that I don’t have to listen to his playlist the entire way.

(Inspiration Point Overlook).

The hike up the mountain is giving yesterday a run for its money in terms of difficult hikes. I stopped for lunch about a mile from the summit just to rest a bit before making the final push to the peak.

It’s definitely worth the effort. I got to the peak around 2:30pm and had the place to myself for about 20 minutes, just sitting up here with views in every direction. Couldn’t see LA though as the cloud cover was too thick. But I did have an LA experience while sitting at the peak as a glider came up overhead and buzzed the peak for 5 minutes. I don’t think that happens in many other parts of the country. It was actually nice and quiet so I didn’t really mind.

After the peak I just hiked down about six miles to an established trail camp called “Little Jimmy”, which has bathrooms that rival the one in Trainspotting for worst ever, but the rest of the camp was nice.

My friend Alex who lives in LA is going to try to meet up with me on Sunday morning. I’m currently about an hours drive from his place so my goal tomorrow is to hold a reasonable distance but not overshoot a place where we could connect.

Wrightwood

Start at mile 350, 7am

End at Wrightwood, mile 369, 3:30pm

19 miles.

Journaling and blogging has turned out to be too much work, so I’m going to start journaling more on my blog to save time.

Last night I picked one of the worst campsites of my trip so far out of necessity- it was sunset and there weren’t any notes sites for another 6 miles so I just found some semiflat ground next to a dirt road and set up shop. At first it seemed ok but as the night went on it was less flat than I initially estimated, nothing blocked the wind, and the trains from cajon pass kept me up all night, so I didn’t sleep well.

But the view of the sunset was nice.

Today I hit the trail at 7am and immediately took a bypass because the next five miles of the trail were noted as being overgrown with “poodle dog Bush”, which is a plant with oils like poison oak that tend to cause rashes and itching. So instead of starting in the trail I started the day with a 5 mile road walk on an unpaved Jeep road. The thing about Jeep roads is that they can be graded at a much steeper grade than the trail, which has to accommodate horses. Needless to say, the morning hike was pretty strenuous and set the tone for the day.

My plan today was to complete the ascent up to Wrightwood in order to resupply and move on. Having spent an off day in big bear, I didn’t want to take another so soon.

The climb was hard and continuous from 7am to 1pm when it finally leveled off. The views off both sides of the mountain are amazing, and I spent the day hiking alone as most of the folks I met over the past couple days had decided on a plan to get s ride up to Wrightwood and hike down as an alternative to doing the long hard hike up the mountain. Same miles, but less effort.

After reaching the crest I found myself in a ski resort complete with ski lifts and two large fenced off ponds that seemed to be taunting the hikers after nearly 25 miles of waterless climbing.

It would have been nice if there had been one of these to give me a lift up to Wrightwood.

Got to the intersection of highway 2 to get a hitch to Wrightwood at 3:30 and pretty quickly got a ride from a guy named Stretch. Once I town they actually have a list of people who will let you stay with them for free or small donations and as I was trying to figure out my options I ran into a hiker I know named Cool Runnings who invited me to stay at his Airbnb. That turned out to be great because some of the other guests were other folks I know who I thought were miles ahead, including Jamba from my old trail family. So that was nice to reconnect.

We all ordered food and since no one wanted to be standing up, we took advantage of the movie collection at the Airbnb and watched Austin Powers 2 in honor of Vern Troyer.

Tomorrow I’m heading straight back to the trail after tending to my feet. Most of my new blisters have gone down, but my feet are pretty swollen and sore.

I’m going to try to hit the peak of Mt. Baden-Powell tomorrow, which is right off the trail up ahead. Next stop is Agua Dulce.

San Bernardino, we need to talk

It’s been four days since Big Bear and things have largely been going well. Certainly better than the Mission Creek area where I had heat exhaustion.

The terrain after Big Bear was pretty level so I’ve been able to get in longer days. I’ve done several around 24 miles per day including my first day walking out of town. It helps when the landscape doesn’t give you much to look at and this section was pretty underwhelming.

This abandoned mineshaft was the most interesting thing I saw the first day out of big bear, so I didn’t mind just pushing through. After that things got better when we entered the Deep Creek river valley. Now this I will concede is gorgeous.

I spent most of an entire day tracing this river from atop a ridge. There were a few spots where the trail dropped down to the water including the hot springs that everyone told me about. I got there around 2 and stayed for about an hour to soak my feet and cool off. I certainly didn’t need the hot pools, but jumping in the river was nice in the middle of a hot day, plus it meant that I wasn’t as filthy as I would have otherwise been.

You aren’t supposed to camp near the hot springs so I had to push on another 6 miles or so to the next water source, which is actually just a different crossing of the same river, which provided a large camping space fir about 20 people at the base of the Mojave River Dam – which currently holds back no water.

The next day I was planning to make another long one but got sidetracked within a half mile of my campsite by a guy named Coppertone giving out food.

This was actually a great way to start since he had fruit and I made some new hiking partners for the day. A group of about 5 of us all set out for Silverwood Lake at the same time. They planned to camp there but I wanted to push on sine it was only a 15 mile hike. Their interest was in the fact that a local pizza place delivers to PCT hikers at that campground and by the time we got there I had several new blisters which led me to stay and cut things short.

This section is all about these non-hiking surprises: first the hot springs, then pizza delivered to camp, and the next day was all about the McDonalds. There is a McDonalds right on the trail at Cajon Pass, which separates the San Bernardino’s from the San Gabriels. It’s also the last water for 26 miles of notoriously hot uphill climbing to Wrightwood, and they are pretty accommodating for hikers.

I made it to McDonalds with really achy feet by noon, and considered what do do about the long uphill without water coming after. So I rested at McDonalds for 2 hours and then decided since it wasn’t too hot to try to make at least 10 miles of the 26 to Wrightwood so that I wouldn’t have to do the whole thing in one day. That ended up working out pretty well. I made it up 10 miles with a cool breeze and great views and can now do a fairly reasonable 16 miles into town tomorrow to resupply.

But back to San Bernardino. After San Jacinto the bar was set pretty high. The San Bernardino’s aren’t as flashy, and did try to kill me going into the whitewater preserve/mission creek section.

But then along comes Deep Creek and it’s beautiful – except for the fact that the trail in that section is covered in graffiti and garbage.

And of course there was the “historic” (murder) cabins at Coon Creek Campground that are available to rent.

Such a shame that this section has a need for so much cleanup and maintenance. Silverwood Lake ended things in a high note though. So far the San Gabriels have been great, I’m hoping that carries through.

Big Bear and Three Weeks In

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, mainly because the sections of the San Bernardino Mountains that I’ve been traveling through haven’t had any cell service – and I’ve been exhausted. The desert heat combined with elevation gains and losses have been taking a lot out of me.

But right now I’m sitting in a motel in Big Bear resting up for the next section, which includes a hippie hot springs, a long lusted-after near trail McDonalds (I’ve been hearing a lot about this), and some more hot, exposed sections through Southern California.

Since leaving San Diego the trail has gotten harder. I have now crossed the San Jacinto Mountains, and took a side trip up to the summit, which is the second highest peak in Southern California. After descending that range and crossing a pass of exposed desert, I’ve now made my way partly through the San Bernardino mountains, which includes San Gorgornio Mountain, which is the highest peak in SoCal. Doubt I’ll summit this one though as the side trail to it is much further off the PCT.

The past week has been hard mainly due to hiking in the heat. A couple days it was well over 100, and trying to carry a pack up and down a few thousand feet in that weather makes that pretty difficult. I started at 4am one day to try to make some progress before the heat got too bad, and may switch to night hiking for portions of the upcoming desert.

It’s been interesting to see the different hazards, some expected- others definitely not, that we are all encountering, so I thought I’d list a few of the more interesting ones.

1. Rattle snakes. I had been hearing about these from the beginning but didn’t see any until this week. Now I’ve seen 4. These things pop out of nowhere and you usually get a nice warning rattle just before you see them. I’ve had a couple that just rattled and wandered off, including a big one that was probably 3 or four feet long, and one that I spooked in some grass that was all cooled up and angry. I liken rattle snakes to old 8 bit video game hazards where you’d be walking along a side-scrolling game and then you’d walk on something that would pop out and hurt you without warning.

2. Unexploded military ordinance. I think I’ve mentioned this one before but one of the hazards in Southern California is that there is so large a military presence that sometimes planes go down and they can’t find all of the bombs. So in one place we walked through an area with unexploded bombs around the trail.

3. Flying debris. At the beginning of the San Bernardino’s the trail cuts through the Mesa Wind Farm, which is actually great because when you reach their offices they let you sit in their break room, enjoy air conditioning, and they give you food and drinks. But apparently the windmills themselves have the potential to just throw off equipment because there are signs all around the property alerting you to that possibility.

4. Wild dogs. This one was a surprise to me. Around the Mesa Wind farm there is apparently a pack of feral bull mastiffs that hunt cows. I’m told they don’t harm people but that’s still pretty unsettling.

The other thing about this area is that a lot of the forested areas in both the San Jacinto’s and the San Bernardino’s have had significant impacts from fires, including the Mountain fire in 2013. That fire closed a long section of the trail, and in fact 10 miles is still closed near Idyllwild because the trail in that area hasn’t yet been rebuilt. I’m sure we’ll see more and more of this through the sierras and Northern California/Oregon.

One of the things that my old boss, Tom, used to keep on us about was monitoring fires around the state to ensure we were supporting federal resource deployments, evacuation efforts, and recovery. It’s pretty amazing to see some of these areas years later still scarred by these massive fires.

Anyway I have now completed 266 miles, which is 10% of the trail. At the rate I’m walking I’ll finish it by 2019. That’s how it feels anyway. Progress is slow and hampered by discomfort. No major injuries though so that’s good. I did have some heat exhaustion for a few days but I’m now recovered from that. From talking to other hikers it sounds like I’m about average in terms of the different challenges I’ve encountered.

Ok now to go repack for the section that will bring me into the LA area.

On the subject of “trail angels”

Trail Angels are an interesting phenomenon. Not to be confused with Trail Bunnies, of which I’ve seen several.

These are in fact folks who just take it upon themselves to help hikers out for no reason other than they like to do it. That can take all sorts of forms including people who give rides into trail towns, people who open their homes or businesses to hikers (like Carmen’s Place), or those who like to provide “trail magic”, which are little treats at points along the trail.

The first trail magic I encountered was at the end of a very long day from Mt. Laguna to the Sunrise Trailhead, where I planned to camp for the night. It was my first 17 mile day and the day I really developed a whole crop of blisters. As I was nearing the trailhead I found four large plastic bins filled with grapefruit. Now if you asked me leading up to that point if that was what I wanted at that moment I would have probably said no, but just coming upon it as I was about to keel over was really a treat, and I got some grapefruit for dessert that night thanks to a trail angel named Ice.

Some of the most important trail magic are water caches in the middle of dry areas. I’ve taken advantage of two, one of which consisted of nearly 600 gallons of bottled water left for free for hikers to use by a group of folks who just said on their sign that they want you to be safe and successful – and to clean up after yourself.

I’ve already mentioned Carmen’s place so I won’t dwell on it here, but the concentration of hikers at her restaurant made it fertile ground for other trail angels to hang around including a guy named Ghost. Ghost is retired and just likes giving people rides, in fact two of the folks I was hiking with at the beginning realized they needed new shoes so Ghost drove them from Julian to Warner Springs and back to buy new ones.

There’s also a divide among some trail angels, whereas Ghost took it upon himself to drive people around as a service, he took great issue with another guy who would do several trips a day between Julian and Scissors Crossing, but he would charge for the service, which Ghost found untoward.

Back to trail magic, when I got a ride back to Scissors Crossing from a guy called the Brew Hiker, I found the dusty underpass that I had collapsed under two days before full of people and two simultaneous bbq’s happening. Hikers coming off the trail were given a beer and a plate of food, and fresh fruits and other treats to carry along the next section. Coming out of the desert to find that must seem like a mirage, I kind of wish I had experienced it at the end of a hike rather than the beginning of one.

There are also sketchy trail angels. Yesterday I was planning a stop at a place I had heard catered to hikers, just a House right off the trail owned by a guy named Mike. It was about 15 miles from where I was starting that day, and in addition to letting you stay on his property I had heard he made wood fired pizza. Ok, I’m down for that. When I got there the place looked like a cross between something out of deliverance and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 corpses, so despite my feet hurting and bad whether rolling in I pushed on another 4 miles over a crest to a trail campground. Maybe I was too quick to judge but I wasn’t waiting around to find out.

But today I found the best Trail Angel ever. I’ve been out of Warner Springs for a couple days, and am a couple days from Idylwild, so roughing it pretty completely. At mile 145 as I was trudging along I looked to my left to see what looked like a couple picnic tables. Intrigued I decided to check it out and found a hikers oasis including a place to rest but more importantly- a bathroom in the middle of nowhere. And a clean well stocked bathroom at that. Absolutely made my day. The woman who owns the property let’s you camp, take a bucket shower, and has a little lending library that you can take advantage of. She just set this up on her property at no cost to anyone who uses it.

Its a pretty amazing phenomenon that people do this stuff, in most cases for no benefit to themselves other than as Ice put it when I met her at Carmen’s, she just wanted to be a part of the best part of your day.

Week One Recap

This is a little late but it’s been hard to post for the past few days.

The first week was hard but went about as well as I realistically should have hoped. Miles have been fewer than I initially expected and there was the unscheduled detour to Julian due to foot pain, but overall things have gone well and I’ve seen some beautiful parts of the state.

After I left Julian I had to ascend the hills near San Felipe, which included some of the strongest winds I’ve ever hiked through. It ended up being about two days of constant hiking in the wind, but the views down into San Felipe valley, and Ranchita were some of my favorite to date. Also I crossed the 100 mile mark on Sunday, the one week anniversary of starting in Campo. So that felt good.

But the best was the hike into Warner Springs. The night before I spent in the hills at a little (disgusting) spring called Barrel Spring, which was low enough that it had some tree cover which was nice since it was still windy in that area. Coming out of the hills and into the actual area of Warner was gorgeous- rolling grass valleys between low hills.

Warner Springs itself was a treat – the town is so small that they turn their community center over to hikers during the season, they let you charge your phone and relax, sell basic supplies for cheap, and have two things that I desperately needed: a bucket shower and a small resupply store operated out of an airstream trailer.

After a rather warm bucket shower I was able to get some new hiking shoes that don’t hurt my toes. So now my blisters are better and hiking is easier. I also grabbed my first resupply box and loaded up before hiking out of Warner and continuing another couple miles. Most people stay in Warner but that just looked like too much of a crowd. I met up with some folks that I’ve been hiking with since leaving Julian, Little Bites and the Sundance Kid, and we camped with some local section hikers who gave us some history of the area and advice for the upcoming section.

They also provided the first campfire of the trip so I was already thinking we made the right decision when I heard the next morning hat everyone who stayed in Warner was miserable due to the rain and wind that night. We got a drizzle at our campground but were out of the wind.

Today I’m trying to make it to a place called Mikes, which is just a guys house who gives out wood fire pizza to hikers in the middle of nowhere. There’s a lot of weird stuff like that on this trail.

Also here’s some of the folks I’ve met so far:

Todd and I hiked together more or less during days 2-3. He’s a former marine so hiking in SoCal with a pack is no problem for him. I haven’t seen him since Julian so he’s probably a couple days ahead of me now. He’s from Seattle and section hiking 2-3 weeks a year for the next 8 or 9 years to do the whole thing.

Sundance and Little Bites. They are from Vermont and are super enthusiastic. They found me hobbling along after Scissors crossing and we’ve camped together for the past three days.

Jomba. This guy just eats snacks out of ziplock bags with a spoon. He was almost named snack coma.

Alright enough of a break. Back to the trail and onto Mikes place.