Day 23: Wrightwood (369.3) to Buckhorn Campground (390.2)
May 2 // 20.9 trail miles + 3 detour miles
Up at 6:15 to pack up and check out of our Airbnb, we had arranged a ride with a trail angel at 8:30. I FINALLY got to go to one of my favourite breakfast spots, Cinnamons, it’s been closed since we got here. Lots of hikers sitting on the porch having pastry and coffee, had a cinnamon bun and breakfast sandwich. Worth the double zero right there.
Our ride arrived right on schedule and left with Eli, Max, Franky and Honeybee, I think we’ve formed a hiking squad. Most others we met are staying in town at least until this afternoon to wait out the snow and cold weather up at higher elevation, which is probably the smart thing to do but after two days in town we’re ready to get back at it.
On the road back to trail, we could see the upper half of Baden Powell completely covered in snow. Even at the bottom of the trailhead, there was a thin layer on the ground and all the pines were iced over, I think from being in cloud during the freezing temperatures overnight. It was cold as hell but looked magical.
A little less impressed when I started hiking and got covered in falling ice shards from the pines. Not very big, but the wind whipped them around hard enough that it stung any exposed skin.
A quick downhill to the base of Baden Powell, made slower by the fact I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The sun came out briefly and it was warm enough at the bottom to justify changing into shorts and my hiking shirt without any extra layers. The uphill was quite steep on a few switchbacks but the miles passed quickly, feeling well rested after the double zero. The snow was melting into slush on trail and shoes got soaked through pretty early in the day, a taste of the Sierras in SoCal.
At the junction up to the summit it was freezing cold with a strong icy wind. Threw on one extra layer because it was too cold to dig out the rest from my pack. Busted out the last tenth of a mile to the summit, the rest of the group was there, we took a couple very quick pictures and then got down as fast as we could, no time to linger at the top.
The downhill had much more snow than the south face and I got lots of slushy dirt down my shoes. I knew it was coming, but I still was swearing my way up the multiple spikes of steep uphill/downhill after the summit, the lactic acid build up was pretty bad from trying to go fast enough to keep warm. The only thing that saved me from being grumpy was how beautiful the ice and snow were on the pines, and once we started the descent it got much more bearable temperature-wise, so was able to slow down a little and enjoy it.
Below the snow line, we all stopped to get water and late lunch at little Jimmy spring, some of the best tasting water on trail. We still had a ways to go but committed to get down to the large car campground at Buckhorn, which meant another big climb to get through before we’d be done for the day.
Came down through the cloud cover, visibility was almost nothing, but cool weather made the hiking easier. Another big climb up Mt Williamson, but it was much more gradual and I had no problem with it. Met the crew at the bottom, we had to do a two mile road walk around an endangered species closure, one of my least favourite parts of hiking, especially since there was barely a shoulder on the winding mountain road.
The campground was completely empty when we got there, so we had our pick of sites. Despite the fire ban, there were pits with grates over them so we made a small fire, definitely made me a little jumpy with how dry everything is, but the signs allowed it and we kept about 12 litres of water on hand. Really nice to have a campfire, my first on trail.
Hiker hunger definitely starting to hit, I had a huge dinner and double snickers but could definitely eat more. A really good day despite being tough, legs will probably be stiff tomorrow.
Day 24: Buckhorn Campground (390.2) to Ridge Overlook (414.7)
May 3 // 23 miles
Chilly last night and some condensation. Slept in until 7 and slow moving out of camp, the cold is seriously inhibiting my early starts. Finished the last two miles of detour and rejoined the PCT. Uphill right out the gate and my legs felt betrayed after all the climbing we did yesterday.
As much as I’m enjoying having a group to hike with, we’ve been doing a lot of leap frogging-they’re all faster than me but take more breaks. During the day I don’t like to be jumping back and forth with people and after four hours of it, I was getting pretty annoyed. When we got to Camp Glenwood I sat down for 45 minutes to eat my bag of cheesy popcorn and give myself some space.
After that I enjoyed myself much more, the trail followed highway 2 and wound through the pine forests. Would love to come drive this road in the future. It was getting pretty hot but after the last few freezing days, I almost was happy about the heat. Probably going to regret saying that tomorrow when we hit temps in the thirties again.
Caught up to everyone having lunch at a highway road stop with picnic tables! and a pit toilet! I’m getting pretty sick of my standard peanut butter tortilla so it could be time to make the jump back to tuna.
More hot uphill in the afternoon, we had planned to camp down at the fire station so I didn’t grab any extra water at our one source at fountainhead spring, stupid move on my part.
Saw Honeybee stopped at an absolutely gorgeous spot, a flat campsite on a ridge overlooking the mountains below and placed so that we were going to catch sunrise and sunset. We were still four miles out from the fire station but I knew as soon as I saw her sitting beside trail that it would be home for the night. The guys were in total agreement so we settled in early to set up camp, except for Max who’s going to push on ahead to try and meet some friends down trail. I had less than a litre of water which meant no cooking so had to settle for another peanut butter tortilla, ugh.
The sunset was beautiful, I don’t even know why I bother with sunset/sunrise pictures because it never comes close to the real thing. Pushing out a big day tomorrow to get to the KOA just outside of Acton which earns us at least a nero and puts us an easy ten miles from Agua Dulce. The KO has a poooool.
Day 25: Ridge Overlook (414.7) to Acton KOA (444.4)
May 4 // 29.7 miles
Great day, almost hit the 30. Woke up early (for me) at 6 and got packed up right away since I had zero water and that kind of sucked last night, woke up a few times reaching for a drink only to remember I was an idiot yesterday and went thirsty.
Quick downhill to the fire station and drank two litres in one go, probably dehydrated, haven’t peed since yesterday at lunch yikes. There were a lot of hikers there, but I didn’t know anyone outside my group, we’re starting to break into the next bubble.
A sandy, steep, uphill but feeling good after the water. At the top, started getting hit with the MAD VIEWS through Angeles national forest. Loved the desert views of the Mojave, but happy not to be down there, it was hot as heck today. Knocked out my first 10 by 10 on trail, felt good to be getting the miles in early.
Reaching the top of the four mile climb gave me a bit of a hiker high. Something about finishing the hardest part of the day and the endorphins mixed with the views just does it for me. On the downhill I finally caved and put on music, it’s been over a week and I was grooving hard on the way down. Probably going to pick up headphones again, but try and use them much less than last year.
Hot afternoon. Stopped in for a couple trail magic sodas at the North Fork ranger station, and it was hard to get up and keep hiking through the heat after doing 20 miles without much of a break. The ranger that supplies the soda and water for hikers came out to chat with us about the fire that absolutely decimated this whole area about six years ago. Once I did get going, the sugar high kicked in and I had a great time, the uphill felt easy and the ridge views were killer, probably one of my best days of hiking. Usually I top out at about 23-24 miles before I start getting achey and grumpy so today was a nice surprise.
One downside was seeing a growing plume of smoke down near Acton as I was finishing the last couple miles. Helicopters were on it right away going back and forth to put it out and looked like they had it under control within an hour. Just not fun seeing the smoke after last years disaster through NorCal and Oregon.
Caught up with Franky and Honeybee at the KOA, went straight to the little office/store to check in and pick up cold drinks. After the long, hot day, I went a little overboard and bought Gatorade, ginger ale, iced coffee, ice cream, two microwaveable hamburgers (that you know are terrible but tasted sooooo good). Literally no self control at all.
A handful of hikers were scattered around the main grassy camping area, set up my pad and quilt and went to take a shower. Incredible how much dirt was coming off me, even after ten minutes under the water. It had cooled off enough I didn’t want to use the pool, but hit the hot tub for a few minutes with Eli and Franky before cowboy camping. I’ll have to suck it up and learn how to set up my tent at some point this trip.
Annoying group of drunk hikers nearby were so damn loud all night, didn’t get to sleep until 11. Trains also passed right by the camp a few times, each one made sure to wait until they were as close as possible before blasting the horn. Ah well, I can sleep in tomorrow.
Day 26: Zero at Acton KOA
Oh my god one of my best zeros ever and I am an expert zeroer. Slept in well past seven with no pressure knowing we weren’t hiking out right away, one of the best parts of a zero/nero right there. Waited for the store to open at eight and bought two more of the fake burgers and an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast. Literally never going to be able to eat like this guilt free ever again. The international British-mom hiker squad (as we call them) caught up this morning, there’s Scusi from South Africa, Grams from Germany and Mage and her mom Excel from England. I’ve been leapfrogging around them since Big Bear and it was nice to catch up after not seeing them for a while. All of us hung around in the hiker friendly room next to the store watching movies and pizzas were ordered for lunch.
I was initially waffling on staying the whole day, our original plan was to leave around 2pm to do the ten miles between here and Agua Dulce and then take tomorrow off. The weather report made it easier, supposed to be 30+ in the shade all afternoon. My competitive side has been antsy lately with all the nero/zeros after two weeks of fast hardcore hiking, but I need to get that feeling under control. There’s no racing on the PCT and it’s easier to make friends and see the same people when I’m not gunning it. Plus apparently the Sierras are about to go through more snowfall so no point getting there early, I’m considering taking time off to go home once I reach Kennedy Meadows. In the meantime, zeros help.
After committing to the decision to stay, I think it was the right call, it was already above 30 at 10am. Spent most of the day lying in the sun until it got too hot to bear, alternate between swimming and drying off. My tan is ridiculous right now, arms and legs are brown and torso and feet are ghostly white.
Since it was cinco de mayo (like we need an excuse), Franky and Eli hitched to town and came back with a bottle of tequila and margarita mix. A very lazy afternoon sitting in the shade drinking. Could see the PCT way up in the distance as it crossed a hot exposed ridge, made the day better to watch small dots move along the hot trail while I was enjoying a margarita and shade.
After lunch, the massive group of hikers behind us began to trickle in, at least twenty. It’s fun to be around people but again, the irrational competitive side was getting jumpy. Made it better that one of their group, high school John, who had quit trail earlier showed up in his truck with beer and Powerade and lots of snacks for us to share. I’m gradually starting to learn everyone’s names in the group, there’s Firesocks, Pincushion, Moth, Bagels, Dodo and others. Dodo packs out a dice game called Parado which is essentially just a colourful version of Liar’s Dice and we played that for the most of the night.
Tomorrow morning will be a quick ten miles into Agua Dulce for a nero and resupply and then on to Casa de Luna. This stretch of SoCal has the most stops/towns along trail, makes it feel like a constant party with a bit of walking in the middle. Gotta take advantage before the town deficit in the next section.
Day 27: Acton KOA (444.4) to Agua Dulce/Hiker Heaven (454.4)
May 6 // 10 miles
Left the KOA early with Honeybee, Eli and Franky to get to Agua Dulce for breakfast. Back on trail by six, which made the climb up out of Acton much cooler than it would’ve been yesterday. Hiking felt easy after a day off and after three miles it was all downhill so we were cruising. Apparently an old movie celebrity opened up a mountain lion sanctuary somewhere around here and I could hear them roaring in the distance. Pretty sure she must have actual lion-lions there too, because I don’t think plain old cougars can make noise that loud.
Went through the long and dark sketchy tunnel under the interstate and then through Vasquez rocks, some of the coolest rock formations I’ve ever seen and the location for dozens of movie shoots. Hiked through the rocks with Mage and Scusi from British mom hiker squad and then met up with Eli, Honeybee and Franky in the parking lot where tourists come to see the rocks.
Agua Dulce is one of the few towns that the trail passes directly through so no need for a hitch, just roadwalked right in. We got breakfast at the only cafe open, blueberry pancakes are starting to replace the breakfast burrito in terms of trail cravings.
Got a lift from the grocery store to Hiker Heaven, a trail angel house in town run by the Saufley’s. There are a couple trailers for sleeping in but most hikers just pitch their tents in the backyard, sharing the space with about five dogs, chickens and one very aggressive rooster. There’s also laundry, shuttles to town every hour, a sewing tent, internet tent, and a whole wall full of hiker mail packages organized alphabetically. Aptly named Hiker Heaven.
The ground was pretty hard on my tent stakes so that was an easy excuse to set up my stuff to cowboy camp. Hung around in the shade the rest of the day catching up on journaling and listening to the fire bluegrass playlist that was on. Ran into a couple others that started the same day as Franky and I, with all the stops we’re no longer the speedy hikers we were at the start, plus others are getting their trail legs.
In the evening, got offered a spot in one of the bunkhouses in a private bedroom since my tent wasn’t pitched (And that’s why you always cowboy camp, win) which was much appreciated, I have a feeling that it’s going to be pretty loud outside between the 40+ hikers jammed together in rows, not to mention the rooster.
Absolutely exhausted this evening, we went to get margaritas at the local Mexican place, but I could barely have two without wanting to put my head on the table and sleep. At night there was a campfire, sat around trying to be social until nine and then called it a night and crashed in bed. 24 tomorrow to Casa de Luna, another trail angel house run by the Anderson’s. Two of the best stops on trail back to back.