DAY 14: I-10 (209.5) TO MISSION CREEK CAMPSITE (226.2)
Hitched back out to the highway with the crew. Still really windy out and I’m feeling either tired or hungover from yesterday.
Stopped at the Mesa wind farm after seeing a sign for "shade and water”- the workers at the wind plant then invited us in for Gatorade and coffee. I think everyone was feeling pretty rough from drinking last night, but the gatorade helped a lot, and the wind farm workers provided a nice chance to get some chat in with non-hikers. After leaving the wind farm, ran into Yves and Francis again! Yves got the trail name Festus since he apparently looks like a movie character from an old western film I’m not familiar with.
There was a steep uphill at the end of the valley that was basically a set of swtichbacks up and out of the canyon. Couldn’t have been more than a quarter mile but we are talking serious vert compared to the trail so far and I fell behind the main group a bit, although they shouted helpful (so they thought) encouragement at me while I came up the last steep stretch with calves burning.
The views on the other side of the climb were stunning, wide open and mountains stretching away in all directions. Jacinto was still visible if I turned around. Coming down the ridge we got to Whitewater preserve for a two hour break. There river was flowing fast and cold, it felt strange to see so much WATER. So we of course took a few hours to nap and eat lunch in the sun. As everyone else was leaving, I stayed behind to pull off the big toenail on my right foot-kicked a rock or something on day one and it’s been clinging on at the very bottom. The last few days it's started to dig back into my skin and really hurting… it had to go. It took a long time and was pretty painful to dislodge. I’d love to say I ripped it off like a badass but mostly just worked at it little by little while trying not to cry. After that was taken care of I had a great afternoon, feeling really good physically. Stayed along the bank of Mission Creek for a while and then climbed up hill into the San Gorgonio wilderness.
We had planned to hike further than where I’m currently writing from, but the campsite we’re at now is so beautiful we decided to stay and have early dinner. A small snake in camp caused some disturbance and Brian immediately went to go set up his tent while the rest of us laughed.
Big toe isn’t bothering me at all, although it looks like a chunk of raw meat. Put on lots of polysporin and taped it up. Also running pretty low on food, planning to do a 26 mile day tomorrow to get to Onyx Summit trailhead. From there I can hitch to Big Bear City early for pizza and beer tomorrow night and then get back on trail to hike the last 14 miles into Big Bear again the next day.
DAY 15: MISSION CREEK SITE (226.2) TO ONYX SUMMIT TRAILHEAD (252.1)
Hiked mostly alone today with a couple overlaps with One 11. We had all planned to get to Onyx summit today, but the morning was rough, the whole day felt uphill (not just felt, it was a big climb) and I had loooow energy. Thankfully the trail crossed Mission Creek often so there was no need to carry a ton of water.
By 10am I was really tired and already sore. For some reason I also couldn’t stop kicking rocks with my abused big toe, expletive count today was probably a record breaker. Stopped for early lunch and took the time to cook ramen with extra dehydrated potatoes and that made me feel a lot better mentally and physically. Didn’t think I would make it to Onyx but then the last 5 or 6 miles flattened out and were easier hiking.
Can't imagine what the superbloom height must've been like, there are still so many flowers alongside trail.
When I got to Onyx Summit, tired and hungry, there was a little sign from Chad (capital W made of sticks with an arrow pointing me towards the road). I ran down hoping I wouldn’t have to hitch alone, but I got lucky and found both him and Brian trying to hitch at the highway. We caught a very sketchy ride with a hippy and his girlfriend, the driver had an uncomfortable habit of looking at us in the rearview while talking and the van would drift slowly to the shoulder of the road before he’d jerk back to the middle. His girlfriend offered us shrooms and would hit a little gong every few minutes for no apparent reason. The drive itself was pretty, setting sun over scenic hills and mountains in the background.
Big Bear City seems like a pretty cool ski town, the three of us went to fire rock grill for burgers, salad and beer. The waitress from the restaurant (Lauren) was really friendly and gave us a ride back to the trail when her shift was over. When we got back to trail, One 11 heard our voices and came to find us, he’s the only other that made it here from our group. There was a raccoon at the camp and it managed to get Chad’s bag of Fritos and also my lip chap as we were setting up the tents. Demon.
DAY 16: ONYX SUMMIT (252.1) TO HWY 18/BIG BEAR CITY (266.1)
Woke up late late late and had the leftover packed out pizza while waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. Kept going back to sleep.
Finally dragged myself up and back to the trail. Everyone else opted to hitch back to town for a nero from Onyx summit. Brian and I decided to knock out the 14 miles to Highway 18 and meet them in Big Bear City that night. Got started around noon and we caught up Festus and Francis and ended up hiker-training the rest of the way. My pack was really light from lack of food and the terrain was easy-mostly flat and downhill so we had an average hiking speed over 3.5 mph, finished early afternoon.
At Highway 18 we got a ride from a trail angel, Papa Smurf, a happy coincidence since the rest of our group was already staying with him for the night. When we got there, met up with our friends, and there were quite a few hikers I didn't know. Had a fire in the grill pit outside. Met two fellow Canadian girls from the GTA, Kaylyn and Kristen (trail name Overload, due to an overpacked bag?) Did laundry and got to take a shower (I’ve never appreciated showers the way I do now), slept on the driveway with Joe and Brian since the cots were in short supply. Zero day tomorrow in Big Bear while the rest of the trail fam goes back and hikes the 14 miles we did today.
DAY 17: ZERO IN BIG BEAR
Had breakfast of delicious egg and hash brown mix at Papa Smurf's. Trail angels are the most incredible people, constantly amazed by their generosity towards us smelly, freeloading strangers. Hitched to town with Brian, Joe and Tony. We decided to stay in the hostel since they had a cheap "private" room for 8. We had time to kill before check in so went to the brewery for an omelet and beer. The two beers here were the best I’ve had yet on trail. One11, Chad and Sara joined for breakfast but then headed back to the trail to do the 14 miles from Onyx summit that we did yesterday and planned meet us that night for dinner. Ah, town. Did resupply shopping at dollar tree, bought way too much so decided send some food ahead to Wrightwood and Agua Dulce. Picked up my bounce box from the post office. I’m eating a lot of junk food on the trail, dehydrated potatoes and Kraft Dinner as my core staples and veggies are a thing of the past. Trying to make up for it in town but mostly it’s just been Mexican food, beer and pizza. When will I ever eat like this again?
After resupply, game one of Stanley cup finals was on and we managed to find the one channel on the TV that was playing it. Watched in the hostel room feeling strange, I missed it, but right now it feels like something from another world. After the second period the Americans had lost interest so ditched hockey and went for dinner at the Sonora cantina, great food here. Sara, One11 and Chad showed up during dinner so we had the whole trail fam together and caught Tony up on all the stories that had happened the last few days- Brian’s new trail name, Joe sleeping on the sofa in the middle of nowhere, the lost hiker on Jacinto, me pulling the toenail. Now back to the hostel and everyone's gone outside so I get a tiny bit of quiet time to write and have some time to think, I love my crew but we’re constantly on top of each other and it can get exhausting.
Day 18: Big Bear (266.1) to Caribou Creek (275.0)
Woke up just after 4am and didn’t really get back to sleep. Finally dragged out of bed at 7:30 for a quick shower (skin gets so out of whack after showers now, my legs are scalier than a lizard) and we were out by 9. Went to the post office to mail the two resupply boxes to Agua Dulce and Wrightwood- bouncing my base layers, rain coat, gloves, and notebook so journalling is going to happen on the phone for a while. Everyone was running around town doing chores but met back at the hostel to rally for breakfast. I met a new hiker named Eric who is absolutely flying down trail, he started four days after us. Went for breakfast at the Teddy Bear cafe with Brian, Tony, Francis and Yves...huge breakfast for $5, Big Bear restaurants are killing it.
We didn't end up back on the trail until about 1:30 so opted for a slower 9 mile day to the first water source at Caribou creek. Beautiful afternoon hiking through lots of pine and fir trees and the weather was perfect-warm but not too hot. Still at about 7000 feet. We took a break two miles in and I had a nice nap on a log tree, I can sleep anywhere when tired enough. After 45 minutes we hit the trail again- I was listening to really low key music and went nice and slow. Sunlight was at that golden afternoon angle and it was probably the best day of hiking I've had yet. It's really nice to have some days without pressure to put in big miles and can just enjoy walking.
Set up camp with Festus/Yves, Francis, Tony and Brian. We didn't catch up to Sara, Joe and Chad so big day tomorrow. Dinner in a nice campsite at Caribou, I find Yves and Francis’ smell of smoke and low french chatter comforting and Brian is using a weird electrical pulse machine on his legs right now that makes us laugh, he looks ridiculous. I'm happy to be cowboy camping outside again while being warm and cozy in my sleeping bag.
Day 19: Caribou Creek (275.0) to Deep Creek Bridge (298.5)
Up early, possibly went down to freezing last night. Took a lot of self encouragement to get out of my warm sleeping bag especially knowing I had to go collect some icy water. Pop tarts for breakfast, packed up and made my way back to the creek, my fingers went numb trying to filter. Left camp around 6, warmed up as the sun came out. Beautiful views of Big Bear City with lake, town and mountains in the background. Hiking through pines, could easily be in NW Ontario area if not for elevation. Body feeling good today, although that could be credited to the trail being relatively flat and easy. Currently at mile 286 (Holcomb creek) for lunch and nap break with Francis, Tony, Festus and Brian. I feel ready to go.
Was definitely ready to go. After our break we hiked another four miles to our planned campsite and since it was still early and the weather was cool, we decided to add another 4.7 miles to get to Deep Creek bridge. We also had a friendly competition to see who could get there fastest so set timers on phones as we left. I was in front and ended up jogging to keep ahead. Looked back at one point to see Yves and Tony and Brian running down the hill for the last mile so that put me in full sprint mode. Probably stupid to run so fast on trail but definitely exhilarating and I can see the appeal of trail running without a heavy pack slowing you down. I ended up doing the 4.7 in a just over an hour, Yves and Tony beat me by two minutes. The campsite we’re at is beautiful, next to a river that has crystal clear shallow water and a small waterfall downstream. There's a small beach area where we set up tents and had dinner. All of it is underneath a wooden footbridge. We never caught the rest of the group, but they’re set up three miles ahead of us so hopefully we'll all meet up tomorrow. at deep creek. Face and legs are pretty sunburned since I didn't wear a hat due to clouds. Forgot that sun still comes through anyways, ass.
Day 20: Deep Creek Bridge (298.5) to (318.0)
19.5 miles. Best desert day probably
Late morning getting out of camp because it was just so beautiful. Took a million pictures but none really could capture the scene properly.
Lots of ridge hiking in the morning, and it was getting hot. The hiker fam had planned to meet at Deep Creek hot springs-a natural source spring that was an easy 9 miles and I arrived a little before lunch. The springs are only accessible via trail but are a walkable distance from the highway so it's used by a lot of very free spirited locals... before I had even gotten off the trail, I had seen no less than six (very confidently) naked old men.
After getting over the initial shock of seeing dicks in every direction, the springs were fantastic. The water comes in hot over the rocks and creates tiered pools that vary in temperature from scalding to ice cold. I hadn't intended to stay long, but swimming is a game changer for me and it was probably the best feeling I’ve had on trail so far being able to get fully immersed in cold water.
We ran into the waitress from Fire Rock Grill that had given us a lift back to Onyx Summit (Lauren), small world. Ended up staying all day since it was so hot out, napped on the grass, had lunch, swam, more napping. An old Russian man gave us a few Heineken in exchange for a bit of conversation about the trail, made the day that much better although it was hard to ignore that he was completely naked.
It was hard to leave the springs and go uphill, but around 6 pm, finally decided to put in some miles and I spent the evening hiking through the canyon with the setting sun giving everything a soft glow. Arrived at the Mojave dam with Chad, Brian and Joe. We stayed to watch the sunset and the boys messed around throwing rocks down the long cement dam and listening to the echoes. After the sun went down, we had to get out the headlamps and night hiked another few miles through forest, saw a beaver which I didn’t think lived this far South but there you have it, a touch of Canada in SoCal.
The terrain got very exposed with minimal vegetation, and all uphill. I’m so happy we did it at night because it would’ve been hell during the heat of day. Was getting pretty exhausted at this point and started tripping over my own feet, I can’t say I enjoy night hiking, especially since it reveals just so many tiny scorpions that you don’t see during the day. I’d rather just not know that they’re around when it comes time for cowboy camping. Stopped at a rather nondescript campsite and I just threw down my footprint and pad and crashed. Chad wants to wake up and get started at 5 am so we can make it to Cajon Pass (and MCDONALDS) early tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s any way in hell that’s actually going to happen.
Day 21: Campsite (318.0) to I-15/Cajon Pass (342.0)
As predicted, the early start was not a go. Woke up around four to find that my sleeping bag was absolutely soaked with condensation, but since it was a pretty mild night temperature-wise, I decided it was a problem to deal with in the morning and went back to sleep. Chad was obviously of the same mindset when the alarm went off at five, and made the executive decision that we would wait for the sun to rise and dry out the bags. Any excuse to sleep in is accepted, no matter how unsubstantial, so I caught a couple more hours of shut eye.
At seven, Sara rolled through camp, obviously not suffering from the same morning laziness the rest of us were. It was already starting to heat up so we got moving behind her and continued on through the unremarkable burn zone. Unexpectedly, we caught the rest of our group a few miles ahead- Tony, Francis and Festus had hiked until 3am to catch up with us and made it a few miles further than our campsite. So the whole family is surprisingly intact, and we all planned to meet at McDonalds in Cajon Pass for dinner later that day.
Around 11, it started to really heat up and between the temperature, the less than scenic highway views and a mild but persistent headache, I was getting pretty grumpy. But perfect timing...trail magic! Rounded a corner to see Joe at a cooler with cold water and strawberries. Fresh fruit after three days of ramen and Clif bars was a much needed surprise-big thanks to the trail angels at mile 324!
Back to walking through the heat...could feel it radiating up from the ground, and my shirt was soaked in sweat. Heard a loud rattling just off trail which caused me to jump sideways into some scrub bush but I never saw the snake responsible.
Was getting pretty fed up with the day and the desert, rounded a corner and suddenly there was this massive blue lake stretched out in front of me, the most unexpected thing...almost a system shock, like I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing. Hiked around this magical Silverwood Lake for about half an hour and then stopped for lunch down by the water with Sara, Joe and Brian. We tried to hitch a ride from boaters to take us across the lake, but no success. I wanted to swim but the water looked pretty gross and there were signs advising against it.
The trail went up and circled above the lake which was a whole new form of torture-watching swimmers and jet-skis far below while I was drowning in my own sweat made the heat seem that much worse. After about two hours of this, finally the trail left the lake behind. It only got hotter after leaving Silverwood and the thought that there was a McFlurry at the end of the road was the one thing that kept me going.
I skipped wearing my gaiters in the morning and my shoes were full of sand and rocks, but I was too stubborn to stop so I could feel new blisters forming on my heels where the pebbles had crept in and were rubbing. Only water source of the afternoon was scummy and surrounded by biting flies. Grumpiness was back in full force and there were no more strawberries to counterbalance it. Descending the last few miles towards I-15 offered up some incredible views and I knew I should be trying to appreciate it but at that point my sole focus was getting to chicken nuggets.
It's sad to say, but seeing the sign McDonalds .4 ➞ after the long, hot, 24 miles brought up one of the biggest rushes of emotion I've had so far on trail. There was already a line of packs leaning against the wall outside, and a clear hiker section in the restaurant that the other patrons were avoiding, probably because of how dirty we looked (and smelled). After a double quarter pounder, two McChickens, nuggets, fries and a milkshake, I decided to call it a day and just hope my body won't hate me too much tomorrow.
The local Best Western had cheap rates with a pool and hot tub, so we set off across the interstate with our packs to see how many hikers they would let into one room. Amazingly, they let ten of us split one huge room (the smell!) and there was a scramble for outlets, sleeping space and the one bathroom.
After her shower, Sara emerged to our horror sporting a wicked, wicked blister burn from our day in the sun at Deep Creek hot springs. It was all across her back with one especially massive palm-sized blister right where her pack strap was rubbing her shoulder...she'd hiked all day with it. A retired army doctor staying at the hotel is going to check it out tomorrow and hopefully she'll be good to keep hiking after a day or two off, I still think she should be going to the hospital.
It is now 2:38 in the morning and everyone's gone for dinner round two at the Del Taco across the road, and I've been writing for the past two hours trying to keep track of all the details that I might want to remember when I return to my office job, but it’s impossible with my limited writing prowess to capture everything about this trail and the people on it.
There's been a lot of beer consumed and card games played and although it's definitely not the scene I pictured when I imagined hiking the PCT, I'm pretty okay with it.