It hasn’t been that long since our last post, but in real time almost two months have now passed since we reached Bluff on the Te Araroa back in mid-March 2019…
As it turns out, this was more than enough time to jump headfirst into our next adventure 😉
As some of you may have already seen from our most recent Instagram photos, we will be heading to the US to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this season!
After much discussion, we decided that if we were ever going to do the PCT, there wouldn’t be a better time than right now – coming off the back of the TA we already have a good base level fitness, and we have our gear choices and daily hiking routines pretty much locked down.
For those of you that may not have heard of this trail before, the PCT is a super iconic 4,200km wilderness trail, running along the US west coast through California, Oregon and Washington. The trail’s southern terminus is on the Mexico/US border, just south of Campo, California and its northern terminus on the Canadian/US border on the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.
The PCT is widely regarded as the pinnacle of long distance hiking.
Hiking the PCT has been on Leigh’s bucket list for a number of years now, but it was only really after hiking the TA that Adam started to give serious thought to hiking the PCT.
Leigh will start hiking solo from the US side of the Mexican border at the end of April 2019. Adam will remain at home in Australia for an extra month and a half to manage some work commitments, before joining Leigh at the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California for the remaining 3,000km of the trail.
The PCT is a considerably different trail to the TA and will bring with it many new challenges – whether it be the longer distances, the more extreme conditions (including snow and desert), the larger numbers of hikers on the trail, or the animals that we may encounter (rattlesnakes, bears etc).
We are really looking forward to facing these challenges and learning a lot along the way.
We hope you can follow our journey, either via our regular blog updates, or on Instagram (@adamleighandthetrees)!
Saturday 25 May 2019
Location: Mile 369.3 to Mile 375.8
Distance travelled: 6.5 miles / 10 km
It was so nice to be indoors, warm and snuggly when I woke up to pee in the early hours this morning. It makes life so much easier having an indoors toilet. You learn to appreciate the small things on trail.
The house was still quiet when I woke up this morning. I was was concerned with taking up too much of Kyle and Kate’s time but when I went upstairs to cook some eggs at around 7:30am they were only just waking up.
We had a relaxed start to the day learning a lot about natural therapies, sound healing and CBD oil. It was mid morning before Kyle shuttled us all back into town to resupply and get set for the day.
I headed to the hardware store to speak to some of their knowledge staff about the status of the trail. A guy named Mark gave me some super helpful advice and I ended up buying a pair of microspikes to hopefully help me on the trail over the next day or so. Baden Powell was hit by a snow storm a few days back and is due for more snow on Sunday, when I am due to be going over it. Jeff, Mahni Ben and I had a chat about it and decided to continue on and play it by ear. If the weather gets too wild we can always camp and wait it out or head back down into Wrightwood.
It was an interesting afternoon in the hiker friendly town of Wrightwood. After resupplying I was invited to a food tasting competition in the local hairdresser (yes you read that correctly), received some free food from the supermarket and even a free coffee from the local coffee shop. It was hard to say goodbye to the place.
Mahni and Ben had met up with some friends from LA (and their dog) and headed back out on trail a little earlier in the day. I headed back out in trail with Jeff, yesterday a local man had given Jeff his number in the supermarket and told him to call if he needed a ride (yup, that’s how friendly they are in Wrightwood). We didn’t have any luck getting in touch with Dennis but it only took a few minutes to get a hitch out of town and back to the trailhead. We were picked up by a lovely mad who already had one hiker in the car.
It was after 3pm when we started back on the trail. It was nice to have an easy day, only walking 6.5 miles. We were planning for a little less than that but the campsite we were originally aiming for was full when we arrived. I took it easy with a heavy pack full of food. I walked slowly and took in the sights as I started the ascent up to Baden Powell.
It was a holiday weekend in California so I passed many day hikers and people out camping for the weekend. I passed a large group of kids out hiking, presumably girl scouts who all wished me luck as they hiked by.
The higher I climbed the better the views became. It was a stunning afternoon on the trail. Being forced to walk the extra 1.5 miles worked out well, we ended up in a terrific campsite with stunning views off the mountain. Fingers crossed we don’t end up with too much wind or too much rain overnight.
Sunday 26 May 2019
Location: Mile 375.8 to Mile 386.1
Distance travelled: 10.3 miles / 17 km
Today started as a comedy of errors. As has become my normal routine, I was up early for the bathroom. I climbed out of the tent, slipped on my camp shoes and went in search of a spot. We were camped 1.5 miles up the side of a mountain so needless to say all appropriate cat hole sites were on a rather steep slope.
I had dug my hole and done my thing and was reaching for my bag of TP. It was a cold morning, just above freezing so my hands weren’t working too well. I fumbled with my bag of TP whilst I was trying to open it and to my horror it went tumbling down the mountain. It was one of those moments where things play out in slow motion. What was a few seconds of my little baggie flipping end on end down the hill felt like 15 minutes. Thankfully it came to rest 15 metres or so down the hill in front of me. There I was in the middle of the forest, pants around ankles with no other choice but to carefully waddle my way down the hill to retrieve my TP.
I felt thankful that things hadn’t ended up worse than what they did and began my walk back up the hill, looking forward to crawling back into my sleeping bag in an effort to warm up.
When I reached the crest of the hill, I spotted the bright orange of the tent, good, I thought, I didn’t get lost on my mission to take a poop. As I neared closer to my tent site I realised, to my horror, my tent was not where I had left it.
During my TP debacle, a huge gust of wind had whipped up and flipped my tent on its side, into a tree. All but one peg had been ripped out of the ground. Even the large rocks I had used to secure it during the night had been rendered useless. My initial reaction was to panic. I was certain, that by the contorted angle of the tent, it must be damaged. A feeling of sheer relief spread over me when I realised all was fine. I undid the tangle of tent, packed my gear, ate my breakfast in the freezing cold and questioned whether the happenings of this morning were a sign that I was not meant to walk today, not meant to attempt to summit Baden Powell in a forecast of wind and snow.
I chatted to my hiking buddy Jeffery, he was camping nearby. He was still in his tent by the time I was getting ready to leave but was also planning to walk today. I decided I would start walking and see how conditions were looking further up the mountain.
I took it slowly with the thought that Jeffery would soon catch up to me and we could tackle the tricky sections of the summit together. It didn’t take long before I hit ice. It was still frozen solid with the temperature being so cold, it was covered in soil as a result of all of the hikers having passed over it the day prior and it had good foot holds already kicked into it. It was only a mile or so from the summit where I felt the need to stop and don my spikes. The route was becoming steeper and I was starting to slide back when I stepped.
The microspikes made things a whole lot easier, I was able to continue on up the mountain without issue.
When I reached the ridge the wind had picked up and was gusting strong ice cold wind over the ridge line. It was an incredible sight. I was hiking through cloud and the below freezing temperatures meant all of the vegetation around me was freezing. I was so glad to have my gloves which I’d taken from my box in Wrightwood the day before.
As I made my way to the summit everything started to freeze, the moisture on my rain jacket, the straps on my hiking poles and even the hair around my face! Anything that was accumulating moisture from the clouds was freezing.
After reaching the junction the walk to the summit was short. I was surprised to reach it so quickly and felt elated to have made it, in such crazy conditions it was a challenge and an adventure. I felt proud.
This were on the upper cusp of a winter wonderland and were moving into snow storm territory so I didn’t stay too long at the summit.
I signed the trail register which was also frozen, took a couple of summit selfies and began to make my way back down.
Back down to the junction and the actual trail had been covered in snow, plenty of people had come through before me though so I followed the well trodden path through the snow. Sometimes the direction felt less logical than others however I met a couple traveling the opposite direction to me who assured me the trail was good to follow.
As I slowly made my way down the mountain the conditions changed the lower I climbed. First, the winds stopped, second it started snowing and third the snow stopped and the rain began. It is a lot warmer walking in snow rather than rain, the snow is dry and falls straight off your jacket where the rain chills your body quickly.
My trip up to Baden Powell was a great experience. Despite the lack of views it was an incredible adventure and one of my favorite days on trail yet.
It was also a great learning experience for me, I’d used my microspikes, fallen over a couple of times and learnt how dangerous a fall on a icy pass can be. I’d also gained some confidence moving through snow and ice.
There was snow forecast for the evening and I was becoming bitterly cold in the rain so I decided not to walk too far after the descent from Baden Powell. The most practical place to camp was the trail head car park. I knew people had done the same thing previously and when I arrived another couple were contemplating it. It was only 3pm, it felt odd putting the tent up so early but my hands were numbingly cold from the rain and I wanted to warm up. I put the tent up as fast as I could with the rain still spitting down. I put my thermals on, made hot chocolate, ate snacks and listened to audiobooks, drifting in and out of sleep. It was the perfect afternoon of rest after an eventful morning.
Later in the evening the rain and wind slowed and I enjoyed watching little crystals of snow begin to form on the tent. I fell asleep feeling excited about the prospect of waking up to a dusting of snow the following morning.
Thursday 23 May 2019
Location: Mile 335.7 to Mile 353.9
Distance travelled: 18.2 miles / 29 km
My alarm went off at 5am this morning and I was determined to get to McDonald’s early. It had been raining on and off all night but it had also been super windy so the fly wasn’t too wet while I was packing down the tent. It was extremely cold though.
The walk from the campsite to Cajon Pass wasn’t the most beautiful nor the most pleasant of walks. The wind was gusting and it was cold, rain was spitting down. The trail wound through the hills under a very large set of power lines which buzzed as the rain hit them. I felt like my body was being fried as I walked underneath them.
It was only 6 miles to the McDonald’s turn off, my legs were racing at the thought of hotcakes and coffee so despite the bad weather I made it there quickly.
I didn’t waste any time in ordering and not 15 minutes after I arrived, Jeffrey walked through the doors. What I thought would be an hour or 2 rest at McDonald’s turned into a 4 hour multi-course feast. I had 2 coffees, an egg and cheese mcmuffin, hotcakes, 2 hashbrowns, cinnamon doughnut sticks, an egg and cheese mcgriddle, an apple pie and to top it off a sundae. The sundae may have pushed me close to the edge but it gave me incredible mountain climbing energy.
After hiking the TA people often asked, ‘how much weight did you lose doing that?’ Assuming you must lose a lot of weight walking 3,000km. While Adam lost 12 kgs I didn’t loose a single kg after weighing myself on my return home. How you may wonder? Hiker hunger is how. You become so hungry hiking the trail that trail food doesn’t cut it after a certain point. When you get into town your body goes into overdrive wanting to eat all of the foods you just can’t eat on trail. You mostly crave high calorie foods. I surprised myself just how much I can eat. It’s like there is no off switch. Amounts of food that would normally make me feel sick to think of, I can now eat without thinking twice about it.
Despite the dreary weather outside, I dragged myself out of Maccas and back on the trail. It was nearly 2pm and if I didn’t leave at that point I never would have left.
The carbs, fast, sugar and salt of the McDonald’s feast served me well and I powered through the afternoon. Over the rail lines, through a huge water pipe and back out into the mountains, away from the noise of the highway and back into tranquility.
I was hiking with Jeff. We managed another 12 miles during the afternoon, post McDonalds break. Give we were climbing, covering a 2,500 elevation gain I was surprised at how fast we were able to move.
The views from the trail were beautiful, looking across the mountains and over Cajon Pass.
The clouds were moving fast over the mountains, the higher we climbed the thicker the clouds became.
At about 6pm we decided to set up camp and were later joined by an Australian couple, Mahni and Ben who I’d met a few times before on the trail and who we’d spent our 4 hour Maccas break with. We chatted into the evening.
I was a little light on water having misread some comments on Guthooks (my navigation app). There was a water cache before the big hill climb, 6 miles after leaving McDonald’s. Unfortunately the trail angel who restocked the water wrote the comment on the wrong mile marker so I incorrectly assumed there were 2 caches. I had almost 2 litres, enough to see me through until the morning but I decided to eat lunch and snack food for dinner rather than cook with water, just to be on the safe side.
Friday 24 May 2019
Location: Mile 353.9 to Mile 369.3
Distance travelled: 15.4 miles / 25 km
I had a beautiful, lazy start to my morning today. Although the tent was covered in condensation, it was surprisingly warm with the sun breaking through the clouds. I had camped the night with Jeff, Mahni and Ben. With beautiful views from the campsite, the sun streaming down and Ben making coffee, I decided not to rush into the day but to let the tent dry off before I started walking. It was a nice change not to be rushing out on trail trying to walk to warm up from the cold.
It was just after 8am when I started walking. I was glad I had started late because all of the cloud had lifted and I enjoyed incredible views as I walked, back over Cajon Pass where I had came from the day before and across to the snow capped Baden Powell where I will be heading in a couple of days time.
I was looking forward to heading into Wrightwood, knowing I only had 15 miles to walk today, it was a nice relaxed hike even if it was a steady uphill climb.
About an hour into my morning I was surprised to see a California Fire and Rescue helicopter fly towards me. I expected it to go straight by but it kept doing circular laps of the mountain range, flying up and down in elevation. Initially I thought it was doing a rescue nearby but when it kept flying overhead I panicked that my EPIRB may have malfunctioned and it may be looking for me! After 30 minutes of it flying about I decided that it was probably just doing some practice maneuvers and put in my headphones to ignore it.
The hiking was spectacular today, one of my favorite days on trail. Probably second to the day of snow I had coming out of Big Bear. As I climbed in elevation the views of Baden Powell became cleared and patches of snow began to appear around the trail in front of me.
The air temperature dropped and I needed to add a layer of warm clothing as I gained height. The pine trees were all still covered in snow and ice but the morning sun was beginning to melt the frost and water and icicles fell from the trees as I hiked.
I made it to Guffys campsite at lunch. I had a relaxing hour long lunch break. I was short on water but feeling too lazy to take the side trail down to the nearby spring so I opted to melt some snow for water instead. It was another first time thing for me. There have been so many on this trail!
After an hour break and no sight of my hiking companions I decided to keep moving. It was after 1pm and I wanted to make it into town before the post office closed at 5pm.
As the trail continued the trees thinned out a little and I had great views over the city below. It amazes me that this wilderness is so close to the bustling city of LA.
The area I was walking through is a popular ski resort. I passed by a few sets of chair lifts before the trail began to descend down to highway level.
When I reached the road end 3 more hikers were only minutes behind me and joined me in my attempts to flag down a ride. I was irritated at first, it’s a common courtesy to let whoever was at the road first flag down a hitch first but it worked out fine in the end. A lovely LA local who was camping in the area stopped and gave us all a ride. He said he had a great day of people helping him with some problems so he decided to pay it forward. It was very kind of him. Getting into town so quickly was such a great help for us!
I headed straight to the post office to pick up my bounce box. After all the cold weather we have been getting I pulled out my fleece, gloves and some ginger tea I had stashed in there. I also retrieved my printed maps for the next 400 or so miles up to Kennedy Meadows. It made me realise how fast my time on this trail is going.
While I was at the post office Jeff walked in. He wasn’t far behind me on the trail at all. I got a text from Mahni and Ben about accomodation in town, they were keen to share something for the night. After we finished at the post office, Jeff and I walked across the the hardware store. Not the usual first stop for a hiker when you arrive into town but Wrightwood is not your ordinary town. They are extremely hiker friendly!
The local hardware store has a register where hikers are encouraged to sign in. They also give you a beautiful PCT pin which I have already attached to my pack. They hold packages, have a hiker box, charging station and a place where hikers can leave their bags or just hang out. It is incredibly generous of them and makes arriving into town a whole lot easier. The hardware store also maintains a register of trail angels for the local area, people who are willing to host hikers for a small donation. We didn’t have a place to stay yet so I started calling the names on the list. I initially went for the ones who specified they had a dog and then, when I had no luck decided to work backwards on the list.
We hit the jackpot with Kyle and Kate, they are new to hosting hikers as of a week ago. They moved to Wrightwood a year and a half ago into a beautiful log cabin looking over the valley and town. Kyle picked us up in town in his Porche and we immediately realised we might not be in for staying with any ordinary trail angels. Their house was absolutely beautiful and they had a beautiful husky to match. Kye, the dog was an added bonus. We were all in heaven, hot showers, laundry, snacks and CBD mocktails! It was a lovely relaxed evening. It’s going to be tough to only spend one night.
Tuesday 21 May 2019
Location: Bench Camp (Mile 294.7) to Deep Creek (Mile 313.4)
Distance travelled: 18.7 miles / 30 km
It was bitterly cold when I woke up this morning. I really didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. When I finally did drag myself out I discovered the tent fly was completely frozen with a layer of ice, both inside and out. Although it made packing down the tent painfully cold it also gave me a little motivation, as the sun came out and the ice started to melt, dripping water inside the tent.
I wasn’t on trail until 7.30am which is late for me, I think the last few nights sleeping in a comfy warm bed at the Big Bear Hostel made me lazy. Packing down the tent felt like such a chore.
It was only a few miles in to my morning when I walked past the 300 mile marker! It had snuck up on me and was a nice surprise. I’m looking forward to hitting the next big milestone of 500, so it will feel like I’ve completed a decent portion of the miles in this epic trail.
The sun never fully came out today, I spent the majority of the day rugged up against the wind. I took a chance at drying out the tent and fly when I was filling up water a few hours into my morning. It felt like just as I took the tent out the sun disappeared but the relentless wind managed to do the trick.
I spent most of the day walking along Deep Creek. The trail ran along the valley, high above the creek, it was a lovely change being so close to a water source. The valley and the river were spectacularly beautiful in sections.
I had a few stream crossings throughout the day, the biggest of which was a couple of miles before reaching the deep creek hot springs.
The hot springs have become a popular spot for hikers to relax at along the trail. I was glad to have arrived mid week. The springs are clothing optional and apparently on weekends a high number of older males hike in from the local area to enjoy a soak. There were already quite a high number of hikers in the pools when we arrived so there wasn’t a whole lot of room. A big beach surrounded the river and springs but it wasn’t very pleasant to sit on with high winds whipping sand all over the place. The wind was also very cold so I was hesitant to get in the water. Despite the water being warm I didn’t want to be cold once I was out. I ended up going in to the hips. It was nice to give my feet and legs a soak.
I had grand intentions of walking another 8 or 10 miles but 6 miles after leaving the hot springs I came to another river crossing. One hiker had gone in ahead of me and was up to his waist in water. Cheesus, a girl I’d been hiking with on and off with over the past few days was staying put, camping before the crossing. I didn’t like the idea of getting so wet so late in the day in such cold weather and decided to stay put also. I was 5 miles short of my 23 mile goal for the day but I decided it was better to be warm. I will try to do some extra miles tomorrow.
There is a McDonald’s not far from the trail, 29 miles from my current camp spot and I’m planning to drop in for breakfast the day after tomorrow. Food strategy becomes very important on the trail. I want to plan my mileage so I make it to the McDonald’s in time for their breakfast menu. Planning a Maccas run is not something I do back home, mostly eating healthy and buying organic, it is incredible how quickly hiker hunger can change ones priorities.
Wednesday 22 May 2019
Location: Deep Creek (Mile 313.4) to Mile 335.7
Distance travelled: 22.3 miles / 36 km
I thought I’d get up super early today to make up for lost miles yesterday but it didn’t work out that way. It was cold outside and I was warm and comfy inside so I decided to sleep in a tad longer.
I was up and walking by 7am. First order of the day was the river crossing I’d avoided yesterday afternoon. Surprisingly the river level had dropped considerably overnight. It was great news! I forded the creek in my flip flops, rolling up my pants to save them getting wet and changed the dressings on my feet once I was safely across to the other side. The water was icy cold so early in the morning. Even after I’d dried my feet and put my shoes and socks back on it took almost a mile of walking before I regained sensation in my feet.
I had a few road crossings ahead of my today and as I made my way to the first one, Highway 173, I spotted a couple of hikers hanging about. Then I spotted the truck…. It was a trail magic! It was so unexpected and I was so happy to see it. Copper Tone was the angel behind the magic. He travels around in his truck, moving to different points on the trail during the season, offering fruit, snacks and root beer floats to hikers. He had an incredible array of snacks. I had a banana, strawberries, cookies with extra frosting and some chocolate truffles. It was an incredible smorgasbord. Copper Tone even had a box of takeaway snacks and food but my food bag was heavy enough so I stuck to filling my belly instead. I only had a short break with Copper Tone before getting back on trail. I wanted to make sure I did enough miles today to make it to McDonald’s for breakfast tomorrow morning.
Immediately after rejoining the trail it began to climb. The trail curved along the edge of the mountain range before leading me down again, back across another highway enroute to Silverwood Lake, which I believe was actually a giant dam.
I walked through an industrial area with large steel pipes, past the huge dam wall and past a power plant. It was one of the less scenic areas of the trail but interesting nonetheless.
It was nearing lunch time, I wanted to find a nice spot to rest. There was a big climb up the side of a hill to a spot where I could sit and look out over the dam while I was eating. It was worth the wait. I saw a couple of people paddling and a boat cruising around. It looked very relaxing. It was mid week and the weather wasn’t the best for watersports, it looked as if it was on the verge of raining. I could imagine how popular the dam would become on weekends when the sun is shining.
The lake was absolutely huge, I walked along it’s edge for a couple of hours as the trail wound its way around. As I walked the wind picked up and the sky threatened to rain.
As I made my way through the Silverwood Lake recreation area and campground it began to rain. It was mostly drizzle and remained that way for the rest of the afternoon.
As I climbed away from the lake I had the most terrific views over it. The trail eventually climbed up a ridge and crossed from one side of the mountain to the other. From here it was only a few miles to my campsite for the night.
I was making good time, it was only early but campsites were limited and I was worried it might be busy. I ended up arriving at 4.30pm. There were still lots of spots available. It was only early in the evening and there was plenty of daylight left but I had already walked 22 miles and it was spitting with rain. I decided to call it a day, get cozy and warm and have an early dinner. Tomorrow it would be Maccas for breaky!
Sunday 19 May 2019
Location: Big Bear Lake (Mile 266.1 to Mile 275.1)
Distance travelled: 9 miles / 14 km
I am happy to report that I woke up to a fresh dusting of snow this morning. I was so excited! Not only did it justify my decision to stay in town for another night but it was also fun too see.
I headed into the kitchen to put on some coffee and cook up a batch of pancakes. New snow began to fall from the sky, I ran around like a kid on Christmas morning. Running outside to film a video, I forgot about the pancake I left cooking in the pan and ended up with a very well cooked pancake for breakfast.
Christian, a guest at the hostel had offered to drive Sarah and I up the the trailhead for our cruisy day of slack packing. Thankful for the lift, I cooked him a big stack of pancakes and while I was going cooked up some extras for a few other hikers staying at the hostel. It was my enthusiasm for the free pancake batter that earned me my trail name. Christian and another hiker, Medicine Man, mid way through their pancakes suggested ‘Stacks should be your trail name!’. And so, my trail name was born. I liked this one and have decided to keep it.
Christian, Sarah and I headed off around 8.30am. From the point Christian dropped us off, we had a few miles to walk up a dirt road before we hit the PCT. It wasn’t too steep though so it was easy going. I would have missed the PCT marker if Sarah hadn’t pointed it out.
It was a nice, fairly flat and easy trail. The weather was cold and windy but nice and cool for hiking. We were in a pine forest for the majority of the morning but it soon opened up into the familiar desert vegetation of two days ago.
Wildflowers were out in full bloom including the cactus and yucca.
During the day we ran into many familiar faces who we’d both been hiking with on and off over the past 3 weeks. The were all very confused as to why we were walking south bound. I think a few were even a little jealous of our great idea of not having a warm bed for the evening given the wind and snow warning.
A few miles from the Highway 18 trailhead we sat and had a nice relaxing lunch. I had some free cheese and crackers and snacks I’d found at the hostel. During lunch a few snowflakes fell from the sky, dusting my legs.
After lunch the last few miles to the Highway went by quickly. Baldwin Lake came into view and we had brilliant views out to the horizon.
It was nice to reach the trailhead feeling fresh, not super dirty and stinky like I’d normally be whilst looking for a ride into town.
The wind was blowing a gale and it was cold standing still. We stuck out our thumbs and didn’t have to drive too long before a car pulled over and gave us a ride into town. Joseph was his name. He is interested in hiking the trail and had driven an hour and a half from his home town on his day off so he could meet some PCT hikers and find out more about the trail and the community. As we drove he asked us if there was any errands we needed help with as he was happy to spend more time with us picking our brains. We drove back to the hostel via the supermarket. I grabbed a few bandaids for my toes, some new sports tape and some antibiotic cream. The tape I had been using to tape my feet had been so sticky that it ripped off big pieces of skin on the bottom each toe, causing open bleeding wounds. Graham had given me some different tape to try. I liked it so much I invested in a new roll and threw my leukotape in the hiker box. Sarah and I also grabbed a pint of ice cream each.
After we farewelled Joseph it was a chilled afternoon, I showered for the 3rd time in as many days, a rare treat! Washed my clothes for the second time in as many days! And caught up on some writing and photo posting.
After so much time off trail I’m looking forward to heading back out in the morning for a few solid days hiking into Wrightwood.
Monday 20 May 2019
Location: Big Bear Lake (Mile 275.1) to Bench Camp (Mile 294.7)
Distance travelled: 19.6 miles / 32 km
I woke up early this morning ready to get a pot of coffee and a stack of pancakes on before I headed back out on trail. I was the first awake in our room and snuck out quietly. I was so focused getting the coffee on that I almost missed one of the most exciting things of my trip so far! The weather forecast was right, we had received a good few inches of snow overnight.
I ran from window to window, over excited like a kid on Christmas morning. Everywhere I looked, it looked like I was in some magical winter wonderland. I didn’t want to wake everyone else up so I had to wait 15 minutes or so until they all started waking up before I could go back into the room to grab my sandals so I could go outside and play in the snow.
Everyone else in the hostel was less excited than I. They were more worried about the cold. They were seemingly accustomed to snow and saw it as more of an annoyance than anything.
After a big stack of pancakes with peanut butter, syrup, banana, a huge cup of coffee and a few glasses of kombucha Sarah had found in a hiker box yesterday, it was time to head out in trail.
Rosie who works at the hostel was in at 7.30am to collect us for the drive out to the trail. We loaded our bags on the roof of the huge station wagon and amazing 8 of us all climbed into the car. 3 in the boot, 3 in the back seat, 2 in the front and Rosie driving. I was a little worried my bag might fall off the top enroute to the trailhead but we all made it there bags included.
I felt like I was in an American Christmas film on the drive out to the trailhead. All of the other cars on the road were covered in snow, the streets were dusted with snow, as were all of the buildings. Everyone else in the car was either from the US or Europe and found it endearing that I was so excited about the snow. I think it makes everything look better. Just like when you have an average looking sponge cake, dust that thing with icing sugar and magically, it looks delicious.
Rosie could only drive Sarah and I as far as the tar road end so we had another 3 miles to walk on the dirt road to get back to the trail head. I wasn’t worried by this, it was an easy enough walk and the road looked extremely pretty at that time of morning before the snow had a chance to think about melting.
Halfway up the road a lady driving back down offered us a lift up to the trailhead. I couldn’t believe our luck! As if this morning could get any better!! She was out at the trailhead doing trail magic, bringing campers hot drinks and she had her 2 beautiful dogs in the car. I climbed into the back seat and had my pupper fix for the week! It was only a short drive up but it saved us about 30 minutes of walking so we were very grateful.
At the trailhead I was glad to find that we weren’t the first ones out on the trail that morning. The snow can make it very tricky to find the trail so it was nice to have some footsteps to follow. It made the navigation a lot quicker and less painful.
It was an absolutely beautiful morning walking through the snow capped forest. Everything looked so pretty dusted in white, more beautiful than it would have normally looked.
I was surprised that I wasn’t cold walking through the snow. It was very dry, not at all as wet as I thought it would be.
A couple of hours into the morning I could hear someone walking along the trail behind me. I turned around to find Jeff walking up the trail. After almost a week it was really nice to see him again. It turned out that he had camped near the trailhead last night and started not too long after us. He had plans to get moving earlier but he had received trail magic from the lady who drove Sarah and I up the road and started a little later. We must have just missed each other.
Reunited we all headed off down the trail together, slowly drifting apart in distance as the miles wore on.
At one point during the morning I took a wrong turn at a junction with a trailhead and walked 500m down a dirt road before I realised I was going the wrong way. I’m blaming it on the snow…
As the day wore on the snow began to melt away in the sun. It was sad to see it disappear but the afternoon was still quite pretty walking.
I was walking alongside a stream for most of the afternoon. Not only was it super pretty with plenty of great smelling wildflowers about but the close proximity to water meant no great long water carries!
Friday 17 May 2019
Location: Arrastre Trail Camp (Mile 256.2) to Big Bear Lake (Mile 266.1)
Distance travelled: 9.9 miles / 16 km
When I woke up this morning I could practically smell the town food awaiting me in Big Bear.
I had somehow overslept and was the last tent left in camp so I got up, packed up and was ready to leave in record time.
I was thankful that it was a relatively flat 10 miles into Big Bear. My legs were propelling me quickly through the pine forest trail.
It wasn’t long before I was back in the familiar desert terrain, dropping down into the town of Big Bear Lake.
Confusingly, there are two Big Bears, Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake. When I was sending my bounce box on from Warner Springs I made a last minute decision to send it to Big Bear. At the post office I needed to decide whether I would send it to Big Bear City or Big Bear Lake. I naturally assumed that Big Bear City would be larger than Big Bear Lake, that the city would be where all of the shops are. I was wrong. Big Bear City is the smaller of the two towns. With little accomodation options. Walking into town I still wasn’t sure if I would need to get to Big Bear City to ask them to bounce on my box.
With my legs propelling me rapidly towards town I caught up with some of the people I was camping with last night, including an Australian couple, Coralee and Sam. We hiked together for a while, chatting as we hiked. They are lovely people, it was nice getting to know them.
I arrived at the trailhead to find some recently refreshed trail magic. It was excited to read that I had walked 10% of the entire trail!
When I arrived at the parking lot I met the trail angel who maintains the soda cache, Tortuga. He is a lovely man, a local who raised his family in the area. He was headed back into town and offered to drive myself and two other hikers into town. I was in luck because the couple Tortuga was dropping into town had posted their resupply boxes to Big Bear City rather than Big Bear Lake so Tortuga had agreed to take them into town via the post office. I ducked into the post office with them and arranged for my bounce box to he forwarded on to Wrightwood.
Arriving in town I was relieved that I had pre booked my hostel bed. I found it fully booked when I arrived.
After getting cleaned up and raiding the hiker box I headed into town to have a second breakfast. Teddy Bears do an all day breakfast. I had a delicious omelette with potatoes and toast. It has quickly become my town go to.
The Big Bear Hostel felt like a home away from home. I spent the afternoon doing laundry and chilling on the couch, enjoying the down time.
Saturday 18 May 2019
Location: Big Bear Lake
Distance travelled: 0 miles / 0 km
It was nice to wake up in a big warm comfy bed knowing I had no need to rush out on trail and nowhere to be. That said, I was up at 6.30am and first order of the day was breakfast! The Big Bear Hostel looks after hikers incredibly well and have a big bag of pancake mix ready to go in the kitchen along with some giant bottles of syrup and coffee. I whipped up a batch of pancakes, one of the other hostel guests put on a pot of coffee and Graham joined us for breakfast before he headed back out on trail. The pancakes were surprisingly delicious. I even found a free banana in the fruit bowl to add to my pancakes. It was delish!
All I had to do today was resupply. Having found a bunch of free food in the hiker box the day prior I didn’t have too much to buy but was planning on sending some boxes forward. After sitting down and doing some further research and planning I decided not to bother sending the boxes. I decided not to bother with the stress and added cost of the postage. The higher prices of some of the smaller supermarkets wouldn’t be enough to offset the postage costs and from the quality items I was reaping from the hiker boxes I would try my luck.
No sooner was I thinking about making a move to the supermarket did Dub walk in the door. I met he and his brother yesterday, we are staying in the same hostel room. Dub is the older of the 2 brothers at 78 years of age and is helping drive his brother back and forth from the trail whilst he section hikes the PCT. They are incredible people who have accomplished a lot! They have named several peaks in Alaska having made the first ascents. Dub is even googleable… try Dub Bludsworth or Mount Thor, Alaska. Dub, having just dropped his brother out at the trail didn’t have too much to do that day and offered to drive me to the supermarket. It was incredibly kind of him. It was also lovely to have the company. Not only did he drive me to the store but came shopping with me, kept me company during my shop and carried my basket for me. He told me he would not judge me for the amount of candy I put in the basket 🤣.
After the grocery store we made a stop at the pharmacy and then headed back to the hostel. It was a lovely afternoon of relaxing, eating and getting to know new friends. I loved hearing Dubs stories and asked if anyone had written a book about him. He said he was in the process of writing one and it would be published if he had the time to finish it. I said I wanted a copy of it when it came out and gave him my email address so I could buy a copy.
During the rest of the afternoon I had a call with Adam and over indulged in a slice of pie at the local coffee shop. It was delicious but I regretted it after. I was so full I couldn’t eat dinner!I was feeling ready to head back out on the trail when I heard that a weather warning had been issued for the following day, snow and wind gusts of over 65km per hour. I would have felt ok with one or the other but trying to camp in strong winds while it was snowing sounded too much for me. After much deliberation, myself and another hiker, Sarah, decided to day hike a 10 mile section of trail and come back to the hostel the following night. The forecast was cold but fine during the day. This way we would be safe overnight but still get some hiking in. After making the decision I really hope I wake up to a good dusting of snow overnight.
Wednesday 15 May 2019
Location: Mesa Wind Farm (Mile 213.4) to Mile 235.4
Distance travelled: 22 miles / 35 km
When I got up this morning I was so glad I had made the decision to push through to the wind farm yesterday afternoon. At 6am when the crew arrived for work I was directed into their break room where I was able to use the toilets, charge my phone and best of all, enjoy a morning coffee. The staff who work there are super friendly and accommodating.
We hikers must be a massive disruption to their day. One of the guys even offered us cake from his birthday a few days earlier. As if it couldn’t get any better I spent most of the hour I was there patting the office dog who practically threw herself in my lap. She rubbed her head all over me, it may have had something to do with my smell.
I was off on the trail at around 7.30am and was worried the late start would mean a super hot day hiking in the sun but surprisingly the temperature had dropped somewhat from yesterday. There was a bit of cloud coverage and a breeze blowing as I departed the Wind farm and climbed my way up to the San Gorgonio Wilderness. I was surrounded by picturesque views in all directions, San Jacinto behind me and San Gorgonio in front of me.
It was around 7 miles from Mesa to the whitewater river. When I saw the river begin to appear in front of me it felt like an apparition appearing in the middle of the desert. I was eager to get down from the mountains and into the water.
There would be many river crossings throughout the afternoon but the Whitewater river was definitely the largest. I took the opportunity to jump in for a dip. Fully clothed I was hoping to achieve 2 things, a bit of a freshen up and a cool down for the next stretch of hiking.
After crossing Whitewater it was back up into the mountains for a short but spectacular stretch. The trail was lined with plants which reminded me of wattle bushes. For a minute I thought I was in the Australian outback with the orange sand and bright yellow flowers.
The trail dropped back down once again and I spent the afternoon crisscrossing back and forth over mission creek. The trail was washed out in parts due to flooding earlier in the year. At times it made the trail hard to find. There were several occasions where I frustratingly followed wrong footsteps and ended trudging up the river bed for unnecessary stretches of time. Despite the washout I was extremely happy to have such close access to water. It made it a much easier afternoon of hiking, not needing to carry so much on me and being able to cool off whenever I started to feel the heat.
I arrived at the campsite I was aiming for earlier than expected. It was only 5.30pm so there was plenty of daylight left and it was only 3.5 miles to the next campsite. Going further today would also mean an easier days walking tomorrow. I decided to push on. It ended up being my biggest day on trail yet, walking 22 miles (35km) in total. It felt good to have made it that far.
Thursday 16 May 2019
Location: Mile 235.4 to Arrastre Trail Camp (Mile 256.2)
Distance travelled: 20.8 miles / 33 km
Today was an uncomfortable day from the get go. I hadn’t slept well overnight. A wind had picked up and the tent fly was flapping about all night. I was too lazy to get out of bed and take it off but I probably should have.
There was no easing into the morning. From the spot where I camped the trail headed on a steep incline up into the mountains. My legs felt heavy and I felt out of breath and sluggish. After only an hour of walking I stopped for a break, thinking a sugar hit would do the trick. It wasn’t until another hiker passed me and stopped for a chat that I realised what it was, on top of the big day I did yesterday I was now at a significant altitude, hiking at nearly 9,000 feet. It made me feel better about feeling so sluggish and I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day.
It was a chilly and dreary morning. It had been forecast for rain and potentially snow. As the morning wore on and I climbed in elevation the temperature grew colder and the winds grew stronger. By mid morning it started to spit rain. At the point it started raining the sun was still out so I continued hiking in my shirt, not bothering with my rain jacket.
By lunch time the rain had turned into tiny beads of ice. I’m not sure if it was sleet, tiny hail or snow but it was painful when it hit my face. The wind picked up and was gusting. There was nothing to do but walk through it and hope that the campsite I was aiming for for the evening was somewhat protected from the wind because it was galeforce.
I was walking through pretty pine forest for the most of the day, it was picturesque but I felt like I was battling the wind and cold too much to enjoy it.
Throughout the day I had spotted deer, a hare, a couple of chipmunks and some incredibly pretty birds which kept my spirits up.
I passed many other hikers during the day. For the first two weeks of the trail I had mostly seen the same groups of people on the trail, leap frogging over each other sometimes not seeing each other for days at a time but over the last couple of days I have been seeing completely new faces. I think it is a combination of the two towns we have passed through, injuries and initial trail families slowly breaking apart as people start to find their own groove and pace on the trail.