Day 6: Warner Springs (109.5) to Campsite (118.5)
April 15 // 9 miles
Slept like the dead last night, I don’t think I woke once in ten hours. Around 6:45 got up to pack my things and meet Jade and Q to go for breakfast at the golf course restaurant. It was so nice to see them, we spent all morning laughing and catching each other up on what our mutual trail friends are up to. I can’t wait to see them in Big Bear again next weekend, plus Cy and Lukas, the reunion is why I’ve been crushing miles and trying to stick to a planned schedule that will get me there in time.
Jade and Q left me with homemade avocado brownies, real aloe for my sunburn (they know me well) and a bit of sadness they aren’t hiking out with me, our group had such a special, tight bond and I’ve missed it more than I expected to while hiking solo. After that it was time to get down to business for chores, did a quick resupply and charged up in the resource centre (Warner Springs isn’t much but they bend over backwards to help hikers). I also bought new shoes, hate to spend money on a new pair already but my feet are in rough shape and there are some big days coming up in order to make Bear by the weekend. Went back to the altras, which got me through the majority of last years hike.
People I actually knew started to arrive late morning, planned to hike out with Frankie, Thang and Ian to do a few miles tonight before a bigger day tomorrow. Frankie is one of the AT hikers I met on day one…his friend that was struggling at Lake Morena ended up having to go to the hospital with raptor myalgia which is where due to extreme physical activity/no food & water/no electrolytes your body LITERALLY STARTS EATING IT’S OWN MUSCLE which fucks up your kidneys and causes them to fail. Thankfully he’s all good and in recovery but apparently it was a pretty close call according to the doctor. Scary stuff.
Left Warner Springs about 3 and moved real slow, both feet were aching and sad even with new shoes. The trail went through more meadow, passed more cows, and then followed Agua Caliente creek for a few easy miles through an oak stand. After leaving the creek, a decently steep uphill back to the desert. Took it really slow and enjoyed the sunset, evening hiking always feels lazy and relaxed.
Caught up to Thang and Ian at a small campsite in a manzanita grove just off trail. They had gotten trail magic where the PCT crossed a road! And saved me some!! So we had a dinner of juice boxes and avocados, trail magic never sounds like much but always has a big impact on morale.
Cowboy camped in my little clearing in the scrub bushes. Supposed to go below freezing tonight so sleeping with the electronics and my water filter to prevent it from cracking when the water left inside freezes. Hopefully a big day tomorrow to Walden which will set me up for an easy stroll to Paradise cafe the next morning for breakfast. Debating going to see a doctor in Idyllwild if my foot doesn’t feel better by then.
Day 7: Campsite (118.5) to Walden (145.4)
April 16 // 26.9 miles
Chilly last night again but my sleeping bag came through. The only problem with being toasty warm is that it’s way harder to get out of the bag in the morning to start hiking, last year that was the only way for me to warm up.
Left camp a little after Thang and Ian, took a few vitamin I’s for the foot. It was very stiff the first few miles, then seemed to loosen up. Pain has increased from the side bone to the tendon above the ankle.
An easy 8 miles to Mike’s place. Grabbed some water from the tank just off the property for the upcoming dry stretch and followed the smell of cooking down to the house. I had just missed home cooked breakfast but there were still a few egg tortillas up for grabs, good timing on my part, got the very last one.
Back on trail with the plan to get at least to the next water, about 18 miles away. Morning was uphill through the desert, spent a lot of time dodging cacti that were starting to grow over the trail and saw three snakes, no rattlers though. Foot felt alright, but I’m also getting a whole new set of blisters from the new shoes...If it’s not one thing, it’s another. You aren’t allowed to ever be perfectly comfortable on trail, it’s just a series of small discomforts that need to be managed so as to not get bad enough to prevent hiking. Had to stop often to re-bandage the feet, they’re getting torn up constantly from removing blister tape and are absolutely filthy, so here’s to my immune system because I don’t have time for an infection.
The rest of the afternoon blurred by, a short climb followed by gradual downhill. The sun was out but still cold with a strong breeze, which made for good hiking although I’m sunburned again. Shocker. Stopped at the water cache but I actually didn’t need any, it was so cool out today I barely drank at all. A plus one for this new, cold desert I’m not used to.
Getting seriously chilly as the sun was setting, made it to Walden, a tiny outdoor library and water cache maintained by trail angel Mary. Got a good laugh from the outhouse, called the Muir John. It was still early but as soon as I was done dinner (couscous with spicy Fritos, a culinary masterpiece on my part) I was into cozies (wool base layer, puffy, tuque and gloves), temperature was dropping fast and the wind was really picking up. Met some new hikers-Jolly and Taylor, Squeeze and Jam. Also some familiar faces-Frankie from day one and Erik from Julian. It was so cold I got the sleeping bag out to wrap around me while everyone sat and chatted-definitely will go below freezing tonight.
We were all in bed by 7 because it was just too unbearable to be outside without protection any longer. Layered up in all my clothes, plus gloves and toque. Had to pull my quilt in tightly-even the smallest crack let in icy wind that gives me the shivers. With head tucked inside it will be bearable but a chilly night nonetheless. Kind of an emotionally rough day for me, I’ve been missing my friends from last year and hoping my foot will magically heal itself.
Tomorrow morning I hit the Paradise cafe which is where most people hitch to Idyllwild instead of doing the next few miles of PCT and an alternate trail around a fire closure. I’d like to do the alternate and not miss trail miles but it’ll be a game time decision tomorrow at the cafe.
Day 8: Walden (145.4) to Fire closure trail junction (166.5)
April 17 // 21.1 miles -plus one extra to get breakfast
Shower count: 0 Breakfast burrito count: 3
SO DAMN COLD last night, even in all my layers and 10 degree bag I could feel the wind and chilly air. Thankfully I didn’t have to get up to pee or anything because there would’ve been a serious internal struggle whether or not to just wet the bed (quilt?). Had to readjust a few times to stop wind from slipping in, but very grateful I made the switch to a warmer bag, the 30 degree would not have cut it this year. Bigger issue was getting out of bed to start hiking, was awake at five but not moving until after seven. Water bottles were frozen and the quilt was covered in a layer of frost.
Paradise cafe and it’s gorgeous breakfast menu was only six miles away but I couldn’t get going until the sun rose enough to warm things up a little. Even then, it took me a miserable half hour to get out of camp and get moving, hiked the first hour in my base layer, puffy and toque trying to stay warm.
Arrived at the highway around 9:30, was considering a hitch but it’s only a mile to the cafe and I was alone. When I got there the only person I knew was Frankie, he was sitting with a new hiker from Minnesota named Waterfall. Ordered a hot chocolate (heard the hallelujah chorus in my head) and the baby sized breakfast burrito I got last year. The other two talked about their past experiences hiking the AT while I ate and tried to warm up, got a serious case of the perma-chills. After breakfast, decided to continue on and hike the fire closure alternate, I skipped it last year so it will be nice to get some new trail miles in... also, I’ve heard it’s beautiful.
Wrapped up the uneaten half of my burrito for dinner and hitched back to the trailhead with Waterfall. She took off pretty quick, the AT (Appalachian trail) hikers are far more prepared physically than we are, where the PCT has graded switchbacks, the AT has rock scrambles and a “let’s go straight up the thing” mentality.
Thankfully the wind died down a little bit and it was actually quite nice in the sun. Started climbing up right away, and I got to face my old nemesis-uphill hiking. Took it slow and enjoyed the trail anyways, this is a beautiful section. Lots of large granite cliffs and boulders, and some actual pine trees instead of cacti! Had to stop and breathe in the smell the first grove I passed.
More uphill for about five miles but the views down into the valley were absolutely gorgeous, can’t believe I missed this last year. Lots of burnt out trees from the old fire that closed the upcoming section, made things feel a little eerie, all the trees were bare and sun bleached white. Frankie caught up while I was taking a break enjoying the view and a snickers, and we called ahead to book a room in Idyllwild tomorrow night for us and Waterfall- I’m starting to really feel the need for a shower and a town day. And a non freezing night.
More views all afternoon, walked along a ridge thousands of feet up overlooking Palm Springs before dropping down into the woods again. Camped now with Frankie at a junction with a side trail we can take down to Idyllwild tomorrow morning since the PCT is closed ahead. Saw Taylor and Jolly very briefly but other than that saw no one else all day long.
The second half of the breakfast burrito was probably tastier than the first as dinner. Already quilted up at 7, I think it’ll get cold again but hopefully not as bad as last night, and camp is sheltered from the wind.
Foot/ankle is stiff and swollen, both big toenails will likely be gone in the next week, sunburned ears and neck are majorly peeling, blisters look terrible and I’ve lost half the skin off my left foot... but the trail was new today, I made some friends that hike my pace, my burrito was delicious, quilt is cozy and tomorrow will be a much needed day of rest before tackling Jacinto and the 20 mile downhill. There’s an owl sitting almost directly in the trees above me making soft hooting noises to it’s owl friend across the clearing. That or Frankie is just messing with it, I can’t tell.
Probably my favourite day so far.
Day 9: Fire closure junction to Idyllwild
April 18 // 7ish? miles
Had a nice sleep in since it is a TOWN DAY, my favourite kind of day. Thankfully also had a warmer night and morning, there was only mild hesitation getting out of bed today. Franky was already gone when I got up, we planned to meet in town later.
The PCT was closed right past our campsite for rehabilitation of a burned zone so took a steep side trail down the mountain towards the highway into Idyllwild. Tried to be calm and enjoy the morning weather but I’m always antsy on the way to town and the miles felt long, even for downhill.
There is the option to walk all the way into Idyllwild, but I made the short detour to the highway for the last few miles. Took a little while to get a ride, maybe I look threatening (or just dirty) but finally got picked up by a nice lady named Judy. She was your typical white-haired older lady, wearing bright makeup and a sun hat and taught pottery at a local college. Totally taken by surprise when she started blasting a David Gilmour album at top volume and we rocked our way into town.
First stop was the Red Kettle inn for breakfast. Again, did not disappoint (the states really know how to do a breakfast burrito, Canada’s gotta figure it out.) After that posted up at the coffee shop on the porch catching up on social media and playoff highlights, may have to fly home if the Jets make western conference.
Idyllwild is hands down one of the nicest stops on the PCT, a cozy mountain town straight out of a movie. The (symbolic) mayor is a golden retriever named Max and lots of businesses offer PCT discounts...seems like half the population on the streets are hikers- we’re easy to identify by the puffy jackets in bright colours.
Did resupply shopping to get me to Bear and then grabbed a beer at the local pizzeria, ran into Jolly and Taylor and watched them finish an entire large pizza by themselves, plus wings. Haven’t gotten hit by the hiker hunger just yet but I know it’s coming.
Set up now on the back porch at silver pines inn with Franky and Waterfall, I just had my first shower on trail and it was incredible. Definitely made some inappropriate noises and stayed in way too long, my sunburn is flaking all over the place...gross. My feet are in a bad state, but so far no sign of infection, treated the blisters with polysporin and they look much better after the shower when they aren’t full of dirt.
The plan is back to trail tomorrow to tackle San Jacinto, but rather worryingly it’s supposed to snow overnight and tomorrow morning with a high wind warning and temperatures far below freezing. May have to play it by ear whether it’s safe to hit such a high elevation, the snow plus freezing rain could make for some very sketchy hiking and camping. Most hikers are taking a zero tomorrow to wait out the weather, Jolly and Taylor offered us a spot at their airbnb if needed. As much as I want to get to Bear on time to see my friends next weekend, I don’t want to make a stupid decision and put myself in a bad spot tomorrow. (And Idyllwild is definitely not the worst place to zero.)