Day 16: Hwy 18 (266.1) to Holcomb Creek Camp (293.2)
April 25 // 27.1 miles
“I’m going to chill out and slow down!” She said as she knocked out another 25+ day. But today was so perfect it was hard to stop walking, miles were flying by.
Was up at 6:30 this morning to prep for the 8am shuttle from the hostel back to trail. Iced my foot and packed my resupply, way too much food, especially since we hit Cajon pass (and McDonalds!) a few days in, but better too much than not enough. One of the hikers was making communal pancakes and coffee, had to stop myself after eating five.
There were six of us dropped off at the trailhead just before 9am, which I thought already was crowded, lol. Got started first and the weather was perfect, another sunny day with a breeze.
Through similar terrain to yesterday, it’s such a strange ecological area. I’m pretty sure it’s the only spot on trail where the flora is a mix of pine trees, Joshua trees and cacti...Desert identity crisis.
Unfortunately the burned out area of the Holcomb fire wasn’t nearly as scenic, every bit of vegetation had been reduced to black sticks. Not much shade either for the short uphill. After leaving the burn zone behind, miles went by quickly through more pine forest, foot feeling really good after the rest in Bear.
Arrived at Caribou creek around noon, one of my favourite campsites from 2017. It was crazy to see the flowing stream it was last May now just a couple of dirty puddles with almost no flow. Grabbed a couple litres and put the filter to work. I stopped for a quick lunch there with two new hikers, Eli and Phoenix. After finishing, the six from the highway showed up, so getting crowded...then came the hiker bubble, probably 20 people arrived within 5 minutes of each other that have been camping as a group since day one. I’ve been hearing about them from other hikers but it was overwhelming to see so many people at once on trail. As much as I love camping with others, I like to be alone while hiking and did not want to get caught in the middle of that train...left real quick and didn’t stop the rest of the afternoon.
Terrain was mostly flat, had great views and a soft pine needle-covered trail to walk on, I was cruising hard. Weather was great and despite the pack just behind me I didn’t see much of anyone else for most of the day.
It’s also been nice to not have music since my headphones broke in Bear, I get way more wrapped into my own thoughts and the miles go by so much faster. Might have to cut down on music the rest of trail, I thought it would be impossible for me to hike without it before, but once getting used to it, the last two days have been fine.
Stopped for dinner at Little Bear Creek campsite, Mac and cheese with Fritos mixed in. Ate as much as I could then tried to motivate myself to do a few more miles since I was feeling really good and plus there was no water at the camp. Got going after an hour for a nice little sunset downhill stretch, it’s usually about the time of day when I get grumpy and my body has enough of hiking and start to ache, but I enjoyed the whole way down to Holcomb creek, which is still flowing strong with good cold water.
My planned campsite was already taken by another group so did one more mile to the next site and I’m happy I did, it’s a way bigger area with soft sand, lots of space, and close to the creek for some nice ambiance to cover the sounds of the other people here. Soaked my feet in the cold water until they started to go numb, not much pain today and my blisters are finally starting to heal and harden. As usual I can’t be bothered to set up the tent.
Tucked away in a little sheltered corner off the main campsite but I have it all to myself. Planning a nero to Deep Creek hot springs tomorrow, should be nice to spend some time lazing around after the long day today. Moon is going to be almost full and very bright tonight.
Day 17: Holcomb creek campsite (293.2) to Ridge campsite (312.2)
April 26 // 19 miles
Slept in until about seven, but packed up quick, the air was already pretty warm with the sun up.
The miles were easy but got very hot, hit the bridge over Deep Creek after a couple hours just drenched in sweat. The trail was completely exposed to the sun after the bridge and there was no wind, probably the hottest day I’ve had yet. There were a lot of hikers on trail, many of whom wanted to stop and chat, but I was impatient to get to the hot springs and have a half day off.
Arrived around noon, a big group there I haven’t met yet. Star girl from New York and her dad were the only people I really knew, so sat and chatted but I didn’t last long before I had to get into the cold water. Swimming is such a recharge, the water was chilly but not unbearable and stayed in as long as I could before moving to one of the hot pools. I did lose my big toenail when I first jumped in but it ripped off cleanly and doesn’t look too bad. Bummer though, it was finally grown back to normal after I lost it last year. One more year of no open toed shoes.
Didn’t feel too social and the group of hikers was quite rowdy (egged on by much tequila packed in by the same local that picked me up at highway 18 a few days ago) so set up a little ways away from the main area to nap and eat lunch.
Surprisingly minimal amount of nudity at the springs this year, probably good since I met a family of hikers that was a mother and her 12 yr old son and 13 yr old daughter-hiking the full PCT. Youngest thru hikers I’ve met by far, I’m not sure if I was jealous of them or unsure why you’d want to take two preteens on a five month hike. Bit of both maybe.
Left the springs around 4:30 with Franky, who caught up after knocking out 22 miles before noon (what?) but we only wanted to do a few miles out and camp at a small spot on the ridge to keep ahead of the crowd.
Leaving the canyon, had beautiful sunset views of the Mojave dam just ahead, and although our campsite was very exposed, the wind wasn’t too bad. Set up on a bit of a slant downhill so it might be a fidgety night.
Foot was a little sore today but was doing way better after the long break at the hot springs. It’s definitely healing which I’m so relieved about, it hurt so badly going into Bear I was worried it was a fracture or something bad enough to take me off trail. I think I just strained it with the big run into Julian and now that the days are shorter it’s had a chance to heal up.
Day 18: Ridge campsite (312.2) to Silverwood campground (329.6)
April 27 // 17.4 miles
Kept having to readjust last night, every time I woke up I had slid downhill off my groundsheet. Up at 6:30, hiking by 7. Passed over the Mojave dam and into the hills above the highway. Not the most scenic section, lots of run down farms and an industrial water treatment facility with barbed wire fence that ran parallel to trail.
Windy but cool, the trail wound through an exposed burned section with tons of yellow and purple flowers. Perfect hiking weather.
Left the highways behind and crested the ridge looking over Silverwood lake, I knew it was coming but it’s a shock to see so much blue water after the long dry start. Followed the lakeshore for a bit, without the wind it got quite hot and I caved after passing the third beach and hiked back to go for a swim. Two swims back to back in the desert! Love it.
The lake is apparently polluted as heck so didn’t stay in long, dried off as best I could on the rocks and continued to the picnic area on the north side of the lake.
It was the planned end game for the day and only 2 pm. Franky and I arrived at the campsite (basically a large pavilion surrounded by campsites, they rent it out to large groups of campers) and found Stargirl and her dad, Matt. They had PIZZA, and HOT WINGS. They informed us that we were in the delivery zone for a nearby restaurant, so we called right away to order two large pizzas, salad and soda. The delivery driver also let us know she would pick up beer for an extra cost, can’t believe I missed this last year. Honeybee and Eli showed up shortly after and jumped in on the order.
When the pizza arrived we did good damage to four larges and saved the rest for breakfast tomorrow. The large Deep Creek crew started rolling in later on in the afternoon and placed their own massive food order. Into the sleeping bag pretty early, I’m finding it a little overwhelming being around such a large group of hikers after being mostly alone so far, I think we probably should’ve put in a couple miles out, but oh well, one loud night won’t kill me.
McDonald’s tomorrow for lunch, this section has been A+ for food! Not sure if we’ll stay in Cajon Pass, would be nice to hike out a bit tomorrow night for a shorter day into Wrightwood on Sunday.
Day 19: Silverwood Campground (329.6) to Swarthout Canyon (347.2)
April 28 // 17.6 miles
Amazing day, probably one of the desert’s best. The section from Bear to Cajon Pass is hands down my favourite in SoCal.
Up kind of early, but chilly morning kept me in my bag until 6. Packed up and went to work on some of the leftover pizza. My pack is really light with no food and cruised out of camp feeling great. Some climbing out of the valley, and I knew the wide angle view down into Cajon Pass was coming and it still took my breath away when I got over the ridge. For sure one of the most panoramic views in SoCal.
I had been feeling anxious to get to McDonald’s but it was so beautiful on the way down I couldn’t rush through it, stopped often for photos and breaks to enjoy the view.
Made it to the interstate at about 10:30 and of course McDonald’s was packed with hiker trash. It was crazy busy, almost overwhelmingly so, the McDonalds is a stop on the interstate and there was a huge amount of car traffic in addition to all the hikers.
Ordered two full breakfasts with orange juice and coffee, over 2000 calories for everything. Ate it all without a problem. Hung around with Franky most of the day, not feeling really motivated to hike out.
Most of the hikers we knew were splitting a room at the hotel in Cajon Pass, which was tempting, but Franky and I left around 4 with Eli and Honeybee and a hiker named Max from Sweden to do six easy miles and shorten the trip into Wrightwood tomorrow.
Amazing views out of Cajon pass, the ridge walks were incredible...missed the views last year because we night hiked due to heat. This year it was windy and borderline cold, made the climb way more enjoyable. Destroyed my watermelon gummies within an hour while waiting for a train to pass across the trail, so no more sugary snacks left for the upcoming day, oops.
Cowboy camping at a sandy water cache with Franky, Eli and Honeybee kept on to make better time into town tomorrow. A big climb up and out of Cajon pass is still ahead of us, I’m hoping to be in Wrightwood in time for the Jets game at 4. We’re also zeroing on Monday, rented a little cabin on Airbnb just outside of town. A full moon tonight, should be taking advantage and night hiking, but both of us are feeling lazy so still have to knock out 22 tomorrow.
Blisters have calloused, sunburn has faded into tan, boredom and exhaustion have turned to focus and appreciation. The smaller days have had a huge impact on my physical health and morale, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the trail again since Bear. (Could also be because it was mostly flat/downhill).
Halfway done with SoCal, which is crazy to me. Time is flying.
Day 20: Swarthout Canyon (347.2) to Highway 2/Wrightwood (369.3)
April 29 // 22.1 miles
Condensation nation last night, lots of cloud rolled through the valley overnight and I woke up around midnight to find my bag completely soaked through. Went back to bed, that’s a morning problem.
Very overcast, misty and cold when I woke up again. No views from all the cloud cover, but perfect hiking weather for the long morning of uphill ahead. Town day had me motivated, so hit the trail around six and started the gradual, 6000ft climb. There’s no water in this section but it was cold enough that I barely drank anything and two litres was more than enough to get me through.
Poodle dog bush was all over the place this morning, I recognized it’s weird fluffy shape and distinctive pot smell right away, an old but gross friend. Lots of it was growing over the trail and it causes a poison ivy type rash that can last for weeks. I don’t think I’m susceptible, but I’m also not willing to risk it. It tends to grow in burned out zones, which I was definitely in this morning, all the blackened shrubs looked extra eery in the mist.
Around 9, I’d climbed high enough to get above the clouds and then came the sun and the views. Lots of flowers today, more colour than I’ve seen this hike.
Stopped at the top in an empty campsite for a quick lunch and spread my quilt out in the sun to dry off. I had been debating taking a shortcut into town via Acorn Trail, but the day was beautiful, I felt really good and it was still early, so knocked out six more miles to Highway 2. Passed a ski resort where a repairman was running the lift backwards. I tried to get a hitch down via chairlift, no dice. All in all covered the six miles in under an hour and a half, could be a speed record for me.
There were a couple day hikers leaving the trailhead just as I arrived at the road, and they gave me a lift to Wrightwood, one of my favourite trail towns.
Straight to the Mexican restaurant for fajitas and (probs too many) margaritas on the rocks. One of the best towns, it’s all small rustic shops and wood cabins nestled among tall pine trees. The cottage we rented is adorable and only two blocks from the town centre. I’ve been hiking on and off with Franky, Honeybee, Eli and Max, all about the same hiking speed. We’re a pretty international crew, Eli is Australian, Max is Swedish, Honeybee is from BC and Franky is from Boston.
Had shower number three, and then we hit the only place in town open on a Sunday night, the Racoon Saloon, for a few beers and round of pool, but I was so tired (plus drinks) that I was back at the cabin and in bed by ten.
Zero day tomorrow. Planning to take more zeros in the last few towns of SoCal, still on track to hit the Sierra a little too early for my liking.
Day 21: Zero in Wrightwood
All the things that go into your standard zero day: double breakfast, shower beers, putting off chores, buying blackberries and ice cream at the food market, waving at the other puffy jackets around town, hikers realizing their alcohol tolerance isn’t as high as it was at home.
Really enjoyed today, we mostly just hung around the cabin watching Planet Earth and making the occasional food run. We don’t have laundry unfortunately so washed my clothes in the sink with shampoo (#domestic) and picked up some food for the next four day stretch to Acton/Agua Dulce. My other big toenail came off cleanly in the shower so PCT goes 2-0 this year. No sign of infection or pain but pedicures will be off the table for a long time.
Many, many hikers in town, the bartender at the local pub guessed 100+. There’s a good chance we’re all going to get stuck here in an ever growing bubble as more arrive, forecast is calling for freezing rain and a low of -10C on Mt Baden-Powell tomorrow, so it’s possible I could be pulling the double zero this early in the trip. (Townie is finally making a reappearance this year, guess I can keep my old trail name?)
Snow is fine by me, but freezing rain and wind is just miserable, and unsafe at such low temps, and unlike on Jacinto, there’s no emergency shelter to escape the worst of the elements if needed. Definitely trying to convince myself to stay, but I can already feel the too long in town antsy-ness creeping in. It’ll be a game time decision tomorrow, I’d like to stay ahead of the pack but can always knock out a few bigger days to get ahead and other than that I have no reason to rush.
Ideally I’d like to do 23 miles tomorrow and get the two big climbs out of the way early, but based on their beer consumption tonight, I have a feeling that Max, Franky, Honeybee and Eli are also going to want to stay tomorrow (the snore train in the cabin right now is unreal), so if I want to squad up I can’t just go blazing off down the trail when I feel like it. The ups and downs of having friends. On the positive side, if I double zero, I can hit my favourite breakfast restaurant tomorrow morning (the closed sign today broke my heart) and I can also watch the Jets game in the comfort of a warm bar with HDTV.
Day 22: Double Zero in Wrightwood
Never as enjoyable as the first zero, but I think we made the right call staying in town, and not much to worry about since chores all got done yesterday.
Hit about four different restaurants throughout the day and I caught the Jets play for the first time during playoffs at the local bar. Antsy to get back to trail tomorrow. My wallet also needs me to get back to trail tomorrow.