The Sierra – Beldon

Beldon to Echo Lake Wednesday 9th September As it was raining we had an early breakfast with Eric and Gordon in Truckee near Lake Tahoe. We then drove up Highway 80 to Donner Pass where we left the hire car and the four of us set out south on the PCT towards our next stop at Echo Lake.

L-R Gordon, Eric, Martina, Brian at Donner Pass

It seemed strange to be hiking with friends from home again. Martina and I had got into some sort of rhythm over the past few months and had probably developed a pretty fair level of hiking fitness. It would be difficult for the otherwise super-fit Eric and Gordon to step off the plane and expect to put in the long miles carrying backpacks.

Our route took us along a viewful volcanic ridge to an alpine hut where we stopped for some lunch. The weather was a touch colder that day and some rain turned to hailstones as we ascended up to Five Lakes area to camp, half a mile off the trail. At 20.5 miles hiking it was a long day for the PCT newcomers!

Stopping of at the Sierra Club Hut

That night the temperature dipped dramatically and we woke to a lining of ice on the inside of the tent outer. So it was a slow start that morning as we all thawed out before zigzagging back onto the trail. Gordon was suffering from a tendon injury and, when we crossed a small road about midday, made a decision to take a lift out from a fellow hiker we met on the trail. The remaining three of us carried on up to Richardson Lake and stopped after 17.5 miles at a pleasant spot by the lake.

Eric surprised us by going for a pre breakfast dip in the cold lake before we set off to cross into the splendidly named Desolation Wilderness. The scenery improved here to one of crystal clear lakes etched out into a bare granite mountain-scape. Dick’s Pass at 9,400ft gave great views north and south across the region and our descent into a lake filled valley provided marvellous hiking.

Next day we had 8 miles to walk in more lovely lake filled country before we reached Echo Lake resort and our next resupply. Gordon met us there after he had managed to pick up the hire car and we all travelled down to the town of South Lake Tahoe for some lunch and food shopping. Eric and Gordon headed off to visit Yosemite with an arrangement to meet us in seven days after we have hiked 150 miles to our next stop at Tuolumne Meadows.

Next into the Sierra mountains with the 150 miles from Echo Lake to Tuolumne Meadows….

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The Sierra – Introduction

Central California Donner Pass to Walker Pass 505 miles

The Pacific Crest Trail in Central California is in many respects the finest part of the trail. Most of its length consists of stunning high granite mountains with many lakes and a remote feel being far above and away from urban California. Its main feature is the Sierra Nevada mountain range running roughly north-south and the PCT joins up with another more famous and popular path here for about 130 miles – The John Muir Trail. During this stretch the hike traverses spectacular high alpine mountains up to 13,000 feet and passes beneath the highest point in the contiguous US, Mt Whitney.

South of Mt Whitney the trail slowly drops down to more arid high terrain, past the outpost at Kennedy Meadows and on to our finish point on Highway 178 at Walker Pass. This is the location where we had walked north to from Mexico for the first 650 miles of our journey and would mark the end of our hike.

We decided whilst in Beldon to start this section at Donner Pass, 130 miles to the south and skip these miles unfortunately. This meant that we would be able to hike a more attractive section with Gordon and Eric and would give us a better chance of reaching Walker Pass, 505 hiking miles away before winter snows set in. It also gives us an excuse if its needed to return for these 130 miles!

Next from Donner Pass through Desolation Wilderness to Echo Lake……

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Northern California – Burney Falls

Burney Falls to Beldon 31st August Our next section of the hike took us southward round Hat Creek Rim, one of the hottest, driest parts of the PCT. The 134 miles to Beldon included a 30 mile section without water, so we gratefully accepted park warden Shirley’s offer to drive out to a lookout on Hat Creek Rim and deposit a container of water, splitting the waterless stretch up into more palatable shorter hikes.

On 1st September we set out early from Burney Falls with Sideshow via the park entrance nearby where Shirley worked. She presented us with ‘Campground Host’ baseball caps which I proudly donned for the next part of the hike! The heat increased quickly in the morning and we made it to our first water source for lunch at Rock Creek after 12 miles. We were all so hot that we agreed to have a siesta under a riverside tree until about 4pm when we hoped it would have cooled sufficiently for hiking on uphill onto Hat Creek Rim.

Not surprisingly it was still stiflingly hot at 4pm but we headed off anyway with thoughts of a cool evening ahead. Sideshow hiked on ahead and we eventually made it up onto the rim around 7pm and stopped for an evening meal. A cooked dinner would be too hot so we had our breakfast muesli with dried milk instead. When a bright moon appeared and the temperature dropped, we felt things were going our way at last, following a beautiful moon dappled route along the escarpment rim- although we did have to keep a good look out in case we stepped on rattlesnakes. We met Sideshow around 9pm – coming northwards- in the wrong direction! I think he had lost the trail at some point and was trying to locate it again. We camped soon after by a small cow polluted pond, 2 miles short of our water cache.

We hiked onto our water in the morning and had breakfast with the refreshingly cool water. The rest of the day was hot, but not as bad as yesterday as we descended down to a cluster houses at Old Station. Our route led on into Lassen Volcanic National Park, an active volcanic area with thermal springs, geysers and hot pools.

We managed a swim at Feather Lake in the park and enjoyed the variety of scenery hereabouts. We met a couple on a short trail to hot springs from nearby Drakesbad Lodge and they invited us back for a lunch at the lodge – an offer we couldn’t resist. We dived into a huge buffet salad followed by cheesecake and felt energised for the afternoon- the owner also gave us fresh fruit and cookies- maybe we looked undernourished!

In the afternoon we were entertained by more hot springs, bubbling pools, Sulphur smelling ponds and geysers along the route. Our evening was livened up by a huge thunderstorm. We dived for cover with our tent outer draped over us as a lightning bolt crashed maybe only 100 meters away. As we sat under the tent sheet hearing the rain drumming against our shelter, we both began to regret sending our waterproof jackets away in our resupply box to save weight. After an hour like this we thought it best to get off the broad ridge we were on and we dashed ahead to Stover Campsite in the dark around 9.30pm. An interesting day!

Storm brewing

Some uneventful hiking days passed by – except us finding a can of beer by a river that we later found out that Sundog had left behind.

On the 6th September, Labour Day weekend, we heard the sound of gunshots in the woods and were immediately wary.  We had already seen some 4WD vehicles crammed with camouflaged hunters roaming through the forest and had wished the deer good luck. We headed on warily and soon passed by some guys with rifles shooting at a tree with a box of beer bottles beside their vehicle. We scuttled on as fast as we could. It was difficult for us to comprehend the open gun laws in the US that seem to allow anyone to own a gun and shoot up the woods.

Rare shot of the two of us hiking

Our trail descended into Chips Creek valley system and we failed to notice a sign indicating a diversion due to landslides taking out the trail lower down. By the time we noticed our mistake we decided just to keep going along the original trail and take our chances with the landslides.

We hit two huge landslides into Chips Creek which caused some missed heartbeats as we slithered across steep mud slopes with semi-cemented rocks which mostly came loose when we pulled on them. We heaved a sigh of relief once we made it across and settled down to camp that night at Williams Cabin feeling grubby, dirty and sweaty.

That night I calculated that we had now hiked 2,000 miles– but that still meant 641 miles to go in the fading summer and into autumn. However, closer to hand, we were looking forward to meeting Eric and Gordon from Scotland next day at the small store of Beldon, 6 miles away.

It was an easy downhill stretch to Beldon and we ambled into town around 10.15am to see Eric, Gordon and fellow hiker Sundog. It was great to see them but we had hoped to get a clean up before they saw us – as we were slightly grotty!

Next Central California and The Sierra mountains, our last section ……..

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PCT Northern California – Etna

Etna to Castella 23rd August After a lovely breakfast and a refreshing stay in Etna we hopped into our pre arranged lift in a pick up truck  back to the trail.

At the pass we met two north bounders with their hiking dog and exchanged tales of the hike. We all enjoyed listening to other hikers experiences and we could also glean information from north bound hikers on the conditions ahead for us. We joined up with Svein and Ron for the day and the four of us continued our chat as we hiked along sub alpine terrain to camp at twilight after 21 miles.

On the next day we split up again as Ron headed off early from camp and we followed on meandering through trees and meadows with distant views out to the volcanic cone of Mt Shasta.

It was here that we met Dave and Gretchen who were spending the whole summer up in the mountains with their horses and had done so for the previous 5 years. Although they were ‘roughing it’ in the wilds, Dave was keen on electronics and enthusiastically showed us his gadgets including  TV, radio, laptop and even a fan to cool his chickens – all powered by batteries charged by solar panels! A local trail maintenance crew joined us as we chatted in the trees next to the grazing horses in a meadow. Dave and Gretchen were a wonderful example of how people can live away from the dependence of a ‘9 to 5’ job out here in the US and we took our hats off to them.

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away to hike on south past Scott Mountain road pass and up to camp beside a natural spring. The PCT took us through the Trinity Alps here, however we managed a wee short cut on the Trinity River Trail as the PCT swept in a huge arc round the river valley whist we dropped straight down and climbed back up on trail-less terrain to rejoin the PCT. Some pitcher plants were growing on a marshy meadow next to a spring here- this is a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects by trapping them in a sticky nectar.

Pitcher plant

Our camp that evening on the 25th August was at beautiful Porcupine Lake high up at 7,200 feet in the Trinity alps and nestled under steep hills. The water was cold so we managed only a short but worthwhile dip before cooking dinner by the lakeshore. That evening as it was getting dark, two people came rowing across the lake to us – on a log! They brought kind offerings of popcorn and it turned out they lived nearby in Shasta City and visited the lake frequently. I marveled at their ability to steer and row the log without falling-in in the dark!

We dropped down past scenic Castle Crags to tiny Castella- a garage, store and post office with a nearby campsite. To our delight it had a section marked ‘Reserved for PCT hikers’ .

Next from Castella to Burney Falls through the dreaded Section ‘O’.

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PCT North California – Oregon Border

Oregon border to Etna Our way led south from the Oregon border sign post on 17th August along broad ridges through vibrant flower meadows with our main obstacle being limited water sources. We saw very few other walkers in this area but met a fellow European PCT hiker called Svein at ‘Cook and Green Pass’. Svein was from Norway and we kind-of hit off as our sense of humour matched as we all had a bit of rant about how weird but also wonderful the people are here compared to Europe.

From a ridge top past hot Kangaroo Mountain at near 6,000 feet we looked down at a long, long descent into the Klamath river valley at 1,400 feet where we knew there was a cafe, grocery store and a post office, hopefully holding our resupply box. My feet hurt horribly on this descent, I think from the heat and building humidity but mostly from the general continual pounding of going downhill.

Our hiking feet- we owed them a lot. Don’t look closer if you are squeamish!

We stumbled into Seiad on the evening of 19th August and found the staff friendly in the small store where we had a huge evening meal with Svein and also Sideshow who turned up. The milk shakes and pancakes at the store were something else and Seiad store holds a pancake challenge where I think six of their HUGE pancakes have to be eaten in one go. Of course this gauntlet must have been taken up by most long distance hikers passing through but I am afraid to say that Martina and I only made it through one and a half pancakes each. Quite a feeble effort really. We later heard that Josh, a northbound PCT hiker, had completed the challenge, but only after semi starving himself on the days before arriving at Seiad!

Our start the next morning was a bit slow after another large breakfast at the café and sorting food to do us to our next stop at Etna. The post office held a ‘hiker box’ which contained food and bits of equipment that hikers had left behind. Since our resupply parcel hadn’t arrived we were able to scrounge our way through the ‘hiker box’ and, after swapping a pancake for some dehydrated meals with Ron, were able to make up our supplies. The ‘hiker boxes’ became a major source of supply for some as food was often left by hikers who had dropped away from the trail or their tastes had changed and they couldn’t stand the food they had faithfully packaged in the spring before setting out.

We dragged ourselves away around noon with Buzz, a local teenager in tow, who managed to show us a shortcut across the valley saving half a mile of road walking. The next stretch involved a long gradual climb of nearly 6,000 feet up into the Marble Mountains and the promise of some more dramatic glaciated scenery to look forward to.

At our second camp at Cold Springs we noticed a slight mistake with our food. What we thought was a pasta sauce packet which we duly cooked  with our pasta, turned out to be orange drink mix. It was a tribute to our hunger that we still managed to eat the results! So much for our scavenged food from the ‘hiker box’.

The scenery was splendid, bright and open without being overly dramatic and reminded me of the Pyrenees in France/Spain. Sixty miles south of Seiad Valley we hit the Etna road on 22nd August travelling over a high pass and we decided to hitch down into town for the night as we had heard good stories about Etna.

We waited for a while at the pass with very few cars passing until one eventually stopped for us. It was only once we were in that we both realised that the Native American driver and his white pal were both high on a mix of beer and drugs. The journey downhill via steep hairpin bends was a nightmare as we swayed across the road and hurtled around each bend. We finally staggered out the car feeling happy to be alive into Etna and vowing to check the driver next time before we excepted a lift. I suppose we had been extremely fortunate up until then and had always had helpful people offering us lifts who usually went out of their way to help us out. Maybe this, added to the fact that we were tired and just wanted to get into town had made us a bit complacent on this occasion.

We liked Etna, it was small, old fashioned with big white-painted wooden houses and none of the usual chain stores like McDonalds and Taco-Bell to be seen. The Alderbrook B&B was delightful and we had a clean up then headed into town for a big supper. Martina had two large fruit pies – so her appetite had now officially returned! On departing the diner we met Ron and Svein and we all agreed to pay $5 each for a lift back up to the road pass the next morning.

Next up in Northern California ……..from Etna to Castella

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PCT North California – Introduction

Northern California Oregon border to Belden 410 miles

“I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight on a bed of California stars

I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight on a bed of California stars”

Woody Guthrie

Introduction From the Oregon border in the north, the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California follows a wide sweep eastwards to connect with the Sierra Nevada mountain mass to the south. There is a great deal of variety in this region; from live volcanic activity in the shape of steam vents and hot pools around Mt Lassen and the dominating snow covered cone Mt Shasta to the more rugged Trinity Alps with the metamorphic Marble Mountain. Forest covers much of the lower terrain but the trail takes in some extremely arid semi desert areas as well such as Hat Creek Rim near the resort of Burney Falls.

Towns passed through tend to be small country stores and lodges as the trail avoids any larger urban areas. Seiad Valley, the first stop south of the border lies deep in the trench of the Klamath river, 5,000 feet below the ridge crest of the PCT.

We would be hiking this area in mid to late August and the hot daytime temperatures would be our biggest danger even higher up in the mountains. Despite having various aches and pains, our condition was fairly good by now – having already hiked around 1,500 miles in all kinds of terrain and Martina thankfully seemed to have recovered from her prolonged bout of Giardia. Our slight concern at the back of our minds as we left the Oregon border on the 17th August was that our summer was beginning to draw to a close and we still had around 1,000 miles to go, with the final section over the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains on the Pacific Crest Trail and the ones most likely to attract autumnal snow. Anyway, we just kept on hiking and waited to see what weather we would encounter.

Our guidebook split the PCT into alphabetical sections and it was the name ‘Section O’ between Castella and Burney Falls that was much talked about amongst hikers as being the worst section of path on the whole trail. Indeed we first heard about the infamous ‘Section O’ back in northern Oregon. This area was still being actively logged and the trail disappears for miles on end under a tangled mesh of fallen trees and bulldozed dirt tracks.

(Note: I understand that the trail has been upgraded substantially in this area since we were there in 1998).

We had not heard much other information about the area so we were to hike into fairly unknown country for us…….

Keep hiking in northern California from the Oregon border to Seiad Valley………

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PCT Southern California-Tehachapi

Tehachapi 1st June  We had about an hour’s wait hitching a lift into Tehachapi and managed to get dropped off at an ‘all you can eat’ Mexican near the centre of town. We have arranged to stay with Jim and Sandy, friends of fellow hikers Chris and Janelle, who have an ‘A frame’ house out of town. We met them all at the house and crashed out, very grateful for their hospitality.

Next day we headed back into town to sort out our mail packages at the post office. Whilst rummaging through our box on the floor of the PO, a guy started chatting to us who, it turned out, had llamas on his farm. He and Martina struck a chord and he left us his address and an invite to visit the farm. We had just about decided to do the flip flop and head for Canada next, and so sent our box to a friend, John Hossack, in San Francisco in anticipation of this journey. We bought pizzas for everyone and returned back to the A frame for the rest of the day.

Up at 5am the next day and we were off north on the PCT at 7am with some low cloud, drizzle and wind to accompany us. Perhaps this Scottish-like cool weather – or the good rest- helped us on to hike a good 23 miles to Golden Oak springs where we met up with Chris, Janelle and another hiker Tim.

It was my birthday and Martina produced a card, candles and a sumptuous can of diet coke! As another special present I saw a bobcat nearby in the bushes and it rapidly disappeared as it spotted me.

That day, we also spotted a black bear – it’s easy to take hiking for granted at times, but we realise how special it is to be out here with the wildlife and the scenery changing subtly to greener shades as we head northwards to the bigger mountains. That night we camped in a lovely spot sheltered by pines and next to a river and have a great  meal consisting of:

  • Cream of herb soup and bread
  • Curry flavour couscous + sun dried tomatoes
  • White chocolate Jell-O + orange pieces
  • A large toblerone chocolate bar
  • Tea
  • 2 raisin cookies each

A diet for kings and hungry hikers indeed!

We hit a contrast the next day as we headed back from the cool forest into hot, hot chaparral country and a 18 mile waterless stretch which meant that we had to carry all our water with us. After some forest of oak and Jeffrey pine, then some lovely flower meadows we dropped again to drier ground and Joshua trees.

A camp spot was found on dirty ‘cow pat’ ground next to a water spigot and I had an uncomfortable night as my ‘thermarest’ sleeping mat has a puncture- but I couldn’t find the hole! We continued with the early starts and were hiking at 6.45am to beat the midday heat on sandy paths which made for hard going – but the lovely morning light on the Joshua trees made up for it. As we ascended up Skinner peak to 6,900 feet through steep slopes of yellow and purple chia flowers, we glimpsed the ranks of snowy Sierra Nevada peaks faintly to the north for the first time. Before this though, the foreground was dominated by a pinyon pine covered plateau which we would need to cross first.

Our trail soon entered a burnt forest zone and it lent a slightly melancholy feel to the day- not helped by two ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles) noisily squealing past us on the trail. Damp, windy weather accompanied us on the final stretch down to Walker Pass and our stop off point. Martina managed to get us a lift from the first car that passed and we were soon ensconced in the ‘Subway’ sandwich shop in the town of Isabella to the west down the highway.

Our minds were now resolved to stop hiking north here and to travel up to Canada to resume the hike southwards from the border. We had completed 650 miles in California – a bit under a quarter of the journey- it was 7th June and now we just had a mere 2,000 miles to go- gulp!

Looking back, the scenery and variety in Southern California had been a revelation –  in particular, the displays of flowers will live with us for a long time. We had been fortunate that the wet winter had meant flower displays and, more practically, lots of flowing rivers and streams for our water supplies. We would both like to return again to visit the US desert some time……..

A couple (Chuck and Jean) heard us talking in the Subway shop and again give us a kind offer to drive us to the train station in Bakersfield the next day. We were both tired, sweaty, dusty and a bit bedraggled but looked forward to a rest whilst travelling and a new cooler start in the Washington mountains. Who knows what conditions would be like for us or how we would fare……………………..

Next Canada ! Manning Park southwards through Washington

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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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PCT Southern California-Wrightwood

Wrightwood Next day (20th May) we walked on in clear air along the snow crusted ridge with the path visible now and then. We lost trace of the path completely as we descended in deep snow down the steep north slopes to Wrightwood.

Along ridges above Wrightwood

Arriving at midday, we enjoyed a blow out of pizza and coke at the Yodeller Inn before collecting our forwarding package at the Post Office. There was a PCT log at the Post Office and we located Brian Sweet from his entry in the book- he had just left and was now striding on ahead of us. I felt I needed an extra days rest to help my calf recover so we relaxed and got a room in the local Pine Lodge. Wrightwood was a very pleasant mountain town and ski area surrounded by forest and it was no hardship to rest and put our feet up.

We headed out on Friday 22nd May and walked along the closed mountain road rather than rejoining the PCT on its ascent of Mt Baden Powell straight away (to allow my calf a bit more recovery time). Before starting the hike in April we had driven up to here and climbed Mt Baden Powell to check out the snow and so didn’t feel the need to climb up again.

Baden Powell

Large patches of snow still engulfed the road as it weaved upwards through pine forest and, with no cars around, it still felt like remote hiking. It reminded me of the movie ‘The Shining’ where the hotel is set amongst forest and is closed for the season. We rejoined the PCT at the end of a long day and camped on a bed of pine needles just off the road. Further on, the PCT joined the ‘Rattlesnake Trail’ and right on cue we saw two snoozing on the trail!

As this was now Memorial Day weekend we actually saw some other hikers- only our second set of non PCT hikers so far. This group each had a deckchair attached to their rucksack plus a twelve pack of beer! A far cry to our attempted minimalist lightweight style. We had a good day that day covering 19.8 miles and we crossed the 400 mile mark for the trail in total. Our route still headed westwards and to the north we could now see the shimmering heat rising from the Mojave desert. We were in hotter conditions too and we made use of any shade we could see such as trees, bushes or cliffs.

Camp Life

We had been hiking for almost a month now and had established a fairly steady camping routine to make our night comfortable. On some days we would have a specific objective and hike until we reached it, however most of the time we just hiked until early evening or to near a water supply and found a good spot for our tent. We have a free standing mountain tent which we came to love on the trail. Made by Terra Nova an English company, the ‘Voyager’ was a solid dependable shelter which could withstand almost any weather.

Usually we would stop hiking and pitch the tent on a flat spot then throw our gear inside and inflate our sleeping mats. One person would collect water and filter it using our Pur Hiker filter that operated a bit like a small bicycle pump. The other would set up our stove- a petrol/Coleman Gas fuelled MSR Whisperlite- prime the stove by heating some fuel in it, then set it alight. Mostly we cooked and eat whilst lying down in the tent- our legs were pretty fatigued at the end of each day and it helped to take the weight of our feet as soon as we could. Our liquid intake was important and we often would have soup and tea to add to the water we drunk throughout the day. After food our bodies were ready to give in but with a little effort we each wrote up a diary and even read novels until we couldn’t stay awake any longer! Sleep wasn’t usually a problem and we slept soon after dark in the evening and woke up early to make the most of the cool mornings. In the morning we started hiking about an hour after waking after having a tea and muesli breakfast and packing up the gear. There was something satisfying about leaving no trace that we had ever camped at the spot and heading off carrying all our needs on our back!

As we headed north again we approached the small town of Aqua Dulce situated in semi desert terrain. This was our next supply stop and it was two dusty, dirty hikers that arrived into the friendly town on Tuesday 26th May.

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PCT Southern California-Big Bear City

Big Bear City 13th May We hit Highway 18 in worsening weather and decided to hitch down to Big Bear City. Not surprisingly it took awhile to get a lift as we must have looked a very dreary sight at the side of the road in blizzard conditions. We were successful after Martina virtually jumped in front of a pick-up in an attempt to get a lift. Desperation knows no bounds! We collected mail from the post office then collapsed into a local motel to dry out and await the end of the storm. We reckoned that we would wait it out here for a day after the snow stopped to give the snow a chance to melt from the trail.

Trail stopover’s were already beginning to attain a ritualistic status – our appetite for food (particularly junk food) was enormous and seemed only to be bounded by the shrinking size of our stomachs. At Big Bear we had a huge Mexican meal, then were both gorging on huge quantities of tortilla chips followed by ice cream as soon as our stomachs had settled. We also made the most of our time by repairing any items and buying food for the next section of trail. My camera had broken and, as I had sent it off for repair, I found a cheap temporary replacement at a local Wal-Mart. Showers and washing our clothes were also important (we only carried one set of clothes each with us to reduce weight). After attending to these items and making some phone calls and sending letters, the time fairly whizzed by. In this way we spent a day and a half at Big Bear before we prepared ourselves for returning to the trail in brightening sunshine the next morning.

It was now May 15th and the sun’s strength was strong on the remaining snow such that it cleared at a rapid rate. Even so, it would take maybe a couple of days of snow free weather to clear the snow completely, but we decided to move on anyway. Fortified with a ‘full-blown’ breakfast of pancakes, chips, eggs at the Mexican café La Paws we posted our forwarding box to the town of Aqua Dulce and managed to get a ride back to the trail out to Highway 18.

It was very different conditions now from the blizzards of two days ago. It was bright, sunny, if slightly chilly, and patchy snow remained here at a height of 6,800 feet. Our rucksacks contained food for 6 days to get us to Wrightwood, 100 miles walking away and nestled in the San Gabriel hills north of Los Angeles. We walked on to 6pm that evening and camped on snow in the forest, melting snow for our meal. Next day, after defrosting our boots, we hike on through patchy snow and out into more open country.

Crossing Deep Creek, we stopped off at hot springs which flow into the steep sided river. There were about 20 people bathing in the pools here and – much to our amazement- most were nude! We were desperate for a dip and a rest so ‘when in Rome’ we stripped off into the pools. It was delicious! The main creek acted as a perfect cold dip contrast to the hotter pools. A highlight came when Martina was offered drinking water from a guy dressed just in sandals and a rucksack! We reluctantly dragged ourselves away after 2 hours relaxation.

Deep Creek

The terrain now was a bit more arid as we followed Deep Creek then past the huge Mojave dam via a wet creek ford. Passing Silverwood dam the next day we stopped off at the Summit Valley Country Store for breakfast. We sat outside munching whilst the owner delivered us his rather right wing views on gun ownership, why everyone should own a gun and how he had to be ready to defend himself from the state. We took it in mostly in silence, reflecting on the road signs full of gun shot holes and on the thankful lack of guns back in Scotland.

We were now heading west, between the southern edge of the Mojave desert and the northern outskirts of LA keeping to the high ground. On the 18th May we made it to Interstate 15 and camped half a mile short of the road out of sight in our own little sandy canyon. The San Gabriels, our next destination, could be seen ahead cloaked in snow and we ascended upwards on ridges to 7,300 feet where we found a high campsite with snow patches handy for our water supplies. I had a sore calf and was happy that we could drop down to the town of Wrightwood the next day for supplies and a rest. One of our aims of this trip was to camp high up on mountains above the tree line as often as possible, even if that meant carrying water up with us. The high camps can provide fantastic sunset and sunrise views and cool mountain air- a godsend in this dry dusty area. Here we could see back to the San Jacinto and Bernardino mountains as well as to the nearby snowy peaks such as Mt Bauldie. Martina was excellent working around the campsite as I rested feeling sorry for myself and my sore calf.

Next day we walk on in clear air along the snow crusted ridge with the path visible now and then. We lose any path completely as we descended in deep snow down the steep north slopes to Wrightwood……….

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