Mexican Border to Warner Springs
Monday, 4/17/00: In Which the Hike Starts and Rainmaking Skills Are Confirmed
I got up at 4:30 at Kevin’s place in Encinitas, where we breakfasted, made a last minute gear check and caught a bus to the commuter train by 5:20. Took the train to San Diego where we caught the trolley to Costa Mesa where a friend of Kevin’s gave us a ride to the border.
The border was under construction (the Army was raising the height of the fence) and an army officer stood by and watched the official picture and signing the log. We left at 8:45 AM and it took a couple of miles before it hit me — I really made it to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail was generally good, wandering up and down through desert vegetation that I am unfamiliar with. The typical plant is about head high, though there are trees (and poison oak) near water. The water we had been forewarned was “sluggish”, so we carried our day’s supply. The most interesting geological feature was Hauser Mountain, with reddish tinged rocks that we circled around.
Around 5 we arrived at Lake Morena where we fixed dinner at the campground. We talked with John, another thruhiker, about camping there together. He told us his story about receiving a $275 parking ticket while mailing his resupply packages at the San Francisco post office. This had severely depleted his funds and he no interest in paying to camp. The weather during the day changed from sun, to high clouds to light sprinkles by the time we started dinner. After dinner we decided to push on a few more miles to get close enough to make the Mount Laguna Post Office by closing time tomorrow. Unfortunately the rain increased and by dark we were huddled under the Cottonwood Creek Bridge, deciding it would be best to camp here instead of under tarps in the wind and rain. Ironically, we had driven over this bridge on our way to the trailhead, a rather inauspicious start to the adventure.
Tuesday, 4/18/00: In Which I am Shocked by How Cold It Can Get in Southern California
Rain continued off and on in the morning. We ate cold granola under the bridge, donned our ponchos and headed out into the showers.
At Boulder Flats Campground I used the bathroom and filled up with water. Then more rain fell as we crossed under Interstate 8 and started up the Kitchen Creek drainage. The day’s goal was Mount Laguna, trying to reach the Post Office before it closed at 4:30.
The excitement for the day came after crossing dry Fred Creek when an armed Border Patrol agent popped up in the brush next to the trail. He was obviously disappointed to catch a hiker and asked who was behind me. I told him my brother and another hiker (in sandals!) who we had just passed. The agent and his partner hiding up the trail then hiked up the trail to their four-wheel drive vehicle and left.
The rain let up in the afternoon, but it was still cold. We were both tired and I picked up a small blister, so we decided to stop at Burnt Rancheria campground, just short of Mount Laguna. The campground was closed (but the water was on), so we hiked up the road to the store/Post Office, arriving by 4 to retrieve the package I had mailed. While at the store the Border Patrol hauled away someone as an illegal alien. When the agent asked me if I’d seen any illegals, I told him “no,” only his fellow agents at Fred Canyon.
Kevin and I both made phone calls and then we limped back to the campground where Kevin lashed his tarp over a picnic table and I slung mine low by a tree. As I write this the wind is blowing about 20 MPH (gusts to 30 MPH) and temperature is about 40. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t snow. Back at the store there was a youngster looking at the thermometer outside hovering in the high 30's and you could tell he was really hoping the rain would turn to snow.
Wednesday, 4/19/00: In Which We Freeze Over
It rained after we went to bed, wetting everything around the edges of the tarp, but I kept reasonably warm and dry in the middle. After midnight the rain stopped and I got up to pee. It was still cloudy as I crawled back under the cover of the tarp. When I woke up later in the night, it was all white outside, the tarp was frozen inside and out, and when I tapped the tarp, white stuff slid down to the ground. Snow, I thought, and snuggled down in my bag to go back to sleep in denial.
At daylight I poked my head out of the tarp to see ice (last night’s rain had frozen) everywhere, not snow. The white I saw was the moon in cleared skies shining off the ice. The sky was still clear but unfortunately an eastern hillside and trees blocked its warming rays. And warming we needed as the temperature must have dropped below 20 degrees F — my large water container had about 2 gallons of water in it that nearly froze through. It took us until 9:30 to get everything thawed out enough to get started.
The sun kept shining and though it was cool, it was pleasant hiking weather. While the campground and area around Mount Laguna had Jeffrey Pines and oak trees, as we went on we moved back into a more desert environment — brush and cactus. Just before Pioneer Mail Picnic Area we ran into 3 hikers, one of whom was headed to Canada. One of the other hikers introduced himself as Meadow Ed (he likes to hang out a Kennedy Meadows), a rotund gray-bearded man who was a wealth of information on water sources from there north to Kennedy Meadows.
While stopping a few minutes later at the Picnic Area, Ed caught up to us again and talked to us some more (he liked to chat), mostly about ALDHA (American Long Distance Hiking Association). As we left he was off to talk with a couple more hikers we didn’t stop to visit with.
This day we had our first view of the San Jacinto Mountains, which I will traverse next week. The snow we could see covering them did not promise easy travel. At one of Meadow Ed’s water sources (a fire water tank Kevin knew about) we ran into two hikers with dogs. More accurately, we talked with one hiker with his dog while the other went off searching for his dog that had run off. They had left Campo a week before us and had only gone this far. Later Kevin and I wondered how they could possibly make it to Canada, especially since one dog appeared to not be trained to come when called.
From there (Mason Valley Truck Trail) we made the “bone-jarring descent” to Chariot Canyon. Arriving nearly at dark we made a quick dinner and threw our sleeping bags on the ground to sleep without rigging up the tarps we carried. As a matter of fact, mine was wet along with other gear (fortunately not my sleeping bag) due to a leak in the valve of my water bag caused by the freezing weather last night. I spread gear around on the bushes hoping it would dry overnight.
Thursday, 4/20/00: In Which Ice Finally Turns to Fire (or at Least Heat)
It was a clear night with a great view of the stars, but that also meant we woke up with frost covering our sleeping bags and other gear. This was a much lighter frost, so we brushed it away as best we could and packed away wet gear, hoping to dry it at a midday stop.
After a quick granola breakfast we continued marching through contoured hills covered with desert vegetation. Eventually having skirted Granite Mountain we strolled across nearly flat Earthquake Valley towards the Scissors Crossing (known by that name by the way various roads meet in this area). There we pumped water from the less than pristine San Felipe Creek, accumulating about six quarts each for the 24-mile trek through the dry San Felipe Hills to the next source of water. At this stop we also dried our gear, which was not hard in the scorching sun.
Though the guidebook advises a morning assault on the west-facing San Felipe Hills, our timing dictated a 2:45 PM beginning. A quart of water weighs about two pounds, so with another twelve pounds each of the precious liquid we started up to climb over 1000 feet in the afternoon heat, estimated by your truly unbiased observers to be about 90 degrees. (The Border Patrol had shut down its impromptu paper-checking station by the road as we crossed, knowing that no one would be foolish enough to be out at this time.)
The vegetation to start with was mostly cactus with a few agave and yucca plants thrown in. There were many varieties of cactus in bloom, most interesting being the 8-foot high ocotillo with bright red blooms on its tips.
Once we made the initial climb the trail moved mostly along the contour lines, wandering in and out of canyons along the hills. When exhaustion and dark were both about to set in, we reached a large sandy wash where we threw down our sleeping bags and cooked another quick meal. There was another couple (man and woman — first woman thruhiker we had seen) camped nearby but we only had a chance to exchange a few words as we needed to get set up before dark.
Friday, 4/21/00: In Which the Temperature Regime Reverses and We Finish Our Hiking Time Together
As a pleasant change the night was relatively warm and we actually could partially unzip our sleeping bags at night. We woke early to mild temperatures, ate and packed quickly to get on the trail by 7. Most of the day was spent on endless contours through the San Felipe Hills. Of note was finding several gallon jugs of water near a jeep access road, left by PCT supporters to help thirsty hikers. We probably could have made it but were glad to take a quart each, especially since it tasted better than the creek water we were still carrying.
By mid-morning the west wind picked up, cooling us considerably. Eventually clouds moved in at our level, causing us to bundle up at rest stops. By early afternoon we finally reached Barrel Springs, where we stocked up on water and relaxed for a while. Warner Springs Fire Station, where Kevin was to finish his hike and I was to spend the night, was only about 9 miles away, so we pushed on. A lot of this remaining mileage was spent traversing cow pastures with the wind blowing hard against us. We reached the creek that runs past the fire station and spent a pleasant final two miles strolling along the creek until we reached our destination.
Once there we enjoyed hot showers (and discovered I had picked up a tick in the cow pastures). Kevin called his girlfriend Kjersten, who brought us fresh food, including a much-appreciated salad. I said goodbye and thanks to Kevin, who left with Kjersten and her two sons. I spent the night in the fire crew sleeping area, none of whom are around since this is not fire season.
Saturday, 4/22/00: In Which It Is Time for a Day Off
Kevin had arranged for me to spend a day at the fire station and I decided to take advantage of the offer. We had just hiked 110 miles in five days, passing several hikers who started before us without seeing (as far as we knew) anyone who began after we did.
I had picked up a few minor aches and pains that could use some rest. I had small blisters on both of my heels and a tendon in my right knee was hurting, especially on the downhills.
I spent the day resting, cleaning clothes and gear, and sorting food. I reviewed the guidebook of where I am going next and think I can make it to Idyllwild by Wednesday night if I don’t run into a lot of snow.