PCT Southern California-Aqua Dulce

Aqua Dulce 26th May We chatted to the owner of the town grocery ‘Chuck’ as we steadily worked our way through his supplies of junk food. We found that a trail angel (someone that helps hikers) lived here and Donna kindly allowed us to stay in a trailer beside her house on the outskirts of town. The trailer had 2 bedrooms, a TV, bathroom, telephone and washing machine- everything a hiker could want! Throughout the day a gathering of hikers took place as others arrived to stay. It is strange that when we hiked on the trail we saw almost no one else yet there were others out there perhaps a day or two behind or ahead of us on the trail.

We compared stories from the trail with; Brian Sweet, Tahoma and Janelle, Tim with the beard, Hikin Mike and John the Pilgrim. It has become a tradition amongst long distance hikers to adopt a ‘trail name’ and soon discussion turned to what we could be called. Martina’s obsession with sheep and us coming from Scotland meant that the moniker ‘Dolly’ was suggested- and stuck (Dolly being a sheep and the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh in Scotland). I was rather pleased that Brian Sweet added I could be ‘Hound Dog’ for my trail finding abilities in bad weather. Hound Dog and Dolly it was then! Donna helped us all again by driving us all in to a local ‘all you can eat’ diner which was like heaven to us.

At Donna’s L-R Brian Sweet, Janelle, Martina, Tahoma, Mike, Tim, John

We left Aqua Dulce and Donna’s reluctantly the next day at 4pm to hike on our own in the relatively cooler evening. We made it up onto a viewful ridge top after 8 miles with heavy rucksacks where we could look back south to the hazy smog of Los Angeles. We progressed on doing a steady 20 + miles per day enjoying the incredibly lavish spring flower displays and looking forward to climbing high into the Sierra Nevada mountains to the north.

One danger we watched out for in addition to snakes was the plant Poison Oak – a brush against this could give a debilitating rash and we were keen on avoiding it if possible. I followed the simple rhyme that I had been told ‘Leaves of three, let ’em be!’ – which meant that I studiously avoided anything that could remotely have three leaves but I was probably safe.

We broke out into the inevitable Proclaimers song ‘500 miles’ when we passed an imaginary 500 mile line- this could be heard echoing around the valley as we strode on. We felt that if we could walk 500 miles then surely 2,600 miles for the whole trail was achievable?

Although it was searingly hot during the day, we still experienced frost at night when we camped high. This was to change though as we descended down to around 3,500 feet to cross the edge of the Mojave desert. We noticed four horse riders cantering through a colourful poppy filled valley in a scene right out of a Western movie before we crossed the famous San Andreas fault. Martina was disappointed that we didn’t get any earth tremors.

El Nino and Flip-Flopping

We had a brief lunchtime stopover at the house of Jack Fair- another trail angel who lives right on the desert edge. It was here that we heard more news that this winter had been one with particularly heavy snow falls- this had been attributed to the El Nino weather pattern. We had encountered much snow on San Jacinto mountain and patches elsewhere but our next stretch in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Central California would be at continually higher altitudes from 8,000 feet to 13,000 feet for 300-400 miles.News coming from local park rangers was saying that there would be unusually deep snow here, perhaps lingering well into July and we began to doubt that we could push through under these deep snow conditions and maintain a 20 mile or so daily rate to make it between resupply towns.

Brian Sweet had left a note saying that he was to collect cross country skis and attempt the Sierra with those. Others were to take a break and wait out until the snow melted. We began to contemplate another option which was to break our journey before the Sierra and restart again on the Canadian border and walk south back to the break point. This wouldn’t be as satisfactory in terms of splitting the hike into two- but it would provide us with easier travel in the less continuously high country of the Washington Cascades (which hadn’t experienced the same high winter snow levels). It would also transport us into a new, different, lush temperate forest terrain which was quite attractive after so much semi-desert. This splitting of the hike, even had a name amongst thru-hikers, ‘Flip-Flopping’.

The temperature at 2pm was a mere 25 C on the floor of the Mojave – cool  here for the 30th May- and both of us felt in form as we made good mileage. Joshua trees were all around and roadrunner birds dashed about in a slightly comical manner. We also noticed a snake wrapped around a branch of a bush above the trail- this shocked us as, up ’til then, we had our eyes glued to the ground looking for snakes- now we had to look everywhere it seemed! The evening camp gave us a glorious crystal clear display of stars and with coyotes howling into the night it was a special spot for us.

We set of hiking early at 7am to cross the lowest part of the Mojave and by evening we were up at 6,000 feet and able to camp in the shade of trees again. Next day we descended a broad ridge system with many wind turbines to a major road crossing between the towns of Mojave and Tehachapi- and the latter was our intended resupply stop.

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