Pacific Crest Trail: The Intro to the Desert

Beehive and I landed in San Diego on the 21st of April with nothing but our backpacks. We uncomfortably sat on the plane as strangers snored all around, making me even more on edge than I already was. I was nervous for some reason. Not in a bad way by any means, just nervous. Prior to landing, we were in Colorado climbing with friends for a week, getting ready for what was to come. Well, the palm trees welcomed us as Red Bass pulled up in his car to pick us up. I hadn’t seen him since we parted ways on the CDT, so it was a good reunion indeed. 

We got the full tour of San Diego as we paraded around the streets, the boardwalk, and the beaches. We eventually made our way back to his place to begin our final prep before setting out on the PCT the next morning. We checked, double checked, then triple checked. Everything was in order. After a night full of laughter, beers, and some delicious homemade food, we turned in for the night, but my mind didn’t shut off. I laid awake for a few hours just thinking about everything that had led me to that point. 

My eyes opened, at first a little concerned due to waking up in a random bed, but as the morning haze faded, I remembered that I would be hiking soon. The day had finally arrived. The day that I had been looking forward to for the last six months. The day that I would begin walking towards Canada. 

We piled into the car as Red Bass provided us with bagels and coffee and set off towards campo. My nerves kicked up again as my heart rate sped up. The hour and a half sped by and all of a sudden the early morning light was beginning to illuminate the patch of dirt we were headed to. The brakes squealed as the car halted and we hopped out. One last cigarette before we start hiking and get to the terminus.  

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We took our photos, said our goodbyes, and began our walk.  Our 2,650 mile walk to be exact. 

 The first day was filled with surprises. The first of many was stumbling into a friend from the AT. His name is Old Timer and we hiked together for about a week or so on and off, and he’s also from Ohio! At first we didn’t recognize each other due to it being well over a year since we’ve seen each other, but in due time we realized that it was who we thought!

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The miles were flying by, but with 4l of water on the pack and it being well over 80 degrees, I could immediately tell we were in for a treat. We ended up making our way into Lake Morena by 5 o’clock, the first real water source for hikers. Not only is it a water source, but they have a campground, an INSANE restaurant, and more than enough amenities for a Hiker. We chatted with the new strangers in our lives, and ended up hanging out with a guy by the name of Smokebreak. He hiked the AT in ‘15 and we actually share some mutual friends so it was an immediate friendship. We ended up pitching our tents, eating dinner and calling it a night. A usual and familiar night for me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last three years eating dinner with people who were once strangers, only to find myself a few days later with them, but sharing stories that haven’t been spoken of in years. 

Mt. Laguna / Mile 42

Mt. Laguna / Mile 42

Our time out here so far has been quick. The miles from Morena to Mt. Laguna flew by. Day 2 and another 23 Miles was in the books. We shared a campsite with more strangers, ran into a few AT ‘16ers, did a little resupply, and enjoyed the night as we got in just after 3 that day. 

Monkey Leg

Monkey Leg

LT. Dan

LT. Dan

The next morning started our break towards Julian, the first real trail town along the PCT. I had heard stories and seen photos, but boy oh boy, Julian is a little gold mine tucked away in the almost empty part of the desert, making it such a nice place to chill. There’s a little spot in Julian called Carmen’s, a Hiker hangout owned by a wonderful woman who is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met! Unfortunately, this is her last year open, so I was happy to get some food and hang out with all the hikers. We ended up sleeping on the floor in LT. Dan and Monkey Leg’s room. The following morning, we were up early and back on trail en route to Warner Springs.

Ghost / Trail Angel

Ghost / Trail Angel

The thing with the desert out here is that with the constant sun exposure, water becomes an issue. Not only that, but without a lot of the water caches out here, hikers would be forced to carry 7-8 liters, which some already do.  

Eagle Rock / Right before Warner Springs

Eagle Rock / Right before Warner Springs

After another day and a half, we arrived in Warner Springs. Somewhat of an oasis for hikers, WS offers a hangout spot, tenting, tons of amenities, a mobile gear shop, and a resupply for hikers. Some get stuck there and spend a few days, some get out like we did. We hung out literally all day though, relaxing in the shade, charging up, and everything in between. As the day wore on and the sun began to go down, we headed out and got an additional 8 or so miles up and over the ridge to catch an unbelievable sunset. Taco, one of the guys I’m hiking with, left a little after ya and when he arrived, came in like a tornado and tripped over Beehive’s tent, making for a good running joke the last few days. 

People Drying Stuff Out in Warner Springs 

People Drying Stuff Out in Warner Springs 

Off Trail / Mike’s Place Caretaker

Off Trail / Mike’s Place Caretaker

We woke up with plans to get to Mike’s Place, a little hostel/camping spot for hikers to hang out at. Mike lives in LA but has a caretaker there while he’s gone. We had heard of possible breakfast and pancakes there, so we earnestly packed our belongings and rushed down the trail in the early morning light. When we arrived, we weren’t greeted with pancakes, but pizza instead! Not only that but for some reason there was a drum set in the yard, so of course I hopped on and ripped a couple beats. (Lol). Mikes place is cool, though. It’s tucked away off a dirt road right off trail, and to be honest, if there wasn’t a sign, I wouldn’t have even known it was there. We ended our time there by filling up on water and busting out to head towards trail angel Mary’s water cache. When we arrived, a mellow bunch of hikers were hanging out by the cache, in the shade, on the tables and everywhere else. After some brief conversations, everyone lightened up a bit, we grabbed our spots, and got dinner rolling. 

Trail Angel Mary and Scout

Trail Angel Mary and Scout

Water, good hangs, and a big breakfast in the morning. What more could I ask for? We planned to hit Paradise Valley Cafe the following morning, so we hit the hay before dark. The wind picked up, and since we were cowboy camping, we all got a little chilly throughout the night. When we awoke the next morning, our routine resumed and we headed out and booked it towards food. 

Rollin’ Through

Rollin’ Through

7 miles in we arrived at the Cafe and placed our orders. Coffee first of course. With great service, even better food, and tons of hikers around, we were quite pleased. To our surprise, as we were getting ready to leave and pay, our server came up to us to inform us that our entire bill has been paid for. First off, I can’t thank the stranger enough, but my god, how does this stuff happen to me? Trail Angels and strangers alike have always been there to help when least expected. 

The following miles after the Cafe are a bit of an interesting bit for hikers. Since a fire closure begins at mile 166 on the PCT, a lot of folks opt to hitch from PVC to Idyllwild to get ahead. For us, that wasn’t an option. We hiked the entire bit to the closure, then the alternate down into town, making for one of my favorite days of hiking this far, and our first 30+ mile day. The trail runs a ridge line all the way up to 7,000’ making for an epic day of hiking with endless views. The day we went for it, it was quite windy though. With gusts up to about 60mph, we could visibly see and feel the weather rolling in. When we got into Idyllwild, we did the usual; get food, smokes, and get going towards the hostel. We stayed at a new location that had just opened up, and for $15 for a bed, I couldn’t deny it. Beers ensued along with good conversation, then bed. 

Ending on the Alternate

Ending on the Alternate

God Rays

God Rays

Let me tell you that we were planning on zeroing HARD in Idyllwild, but with the impending snowstorm at elevation, we made the last minute decision to bounce out of town in the morning and get up and over Jacinto before the snow came in.

Enter yesterday, the hardest and longest day out here up to this point. Not only that, but by far the most enjoyable. 

We began our day by getting a ride up to the parking lot of Devils Slide Trail. It’s a steep, 2.5 mile hike back to the PCT where we resumed after the fire closure. Our plan yesterday was to roll about 5,000’ of gain up to the Peak of Jacinto, then another 7,000’ or so of loss down to a campsite at mile 201. Boy oh boy, we were in for a treat.  

The day started off as planned, arriving at the PCT, then continuing on to the junction. We all met back up to make sure the weather still looked good to attempt a summit push. We went for it. The summit lay 3.5 miles from where we stood, and with another 1,900’ of gain to go, we were up against some tough terrain. The rocks quickly turned to boulders, and before we knew it, the scramble was leading us to the Peak. The clouds were inverted the entire day, giving us an incredible view from the top.

San Jacinto Peak

San Jacinto Peak

We enjoyed our time at 10,800’ for awhile and then eventually made our way towards the long, excruciating descent known as Fuller’s Ridge, a 10,000’ drop to the valley floor. 

Before we really began the descent though, we first had to outrun the storm that was approching. For miles, we could see a huge storm rolling in, and with us being at high elevation, it was quickly turning into more of a problem than expected. We didn’t want to get caught on a ridge, let alone during a storm. We got going. We ended up splitting up and rolling at our own pace.

Storm Rolling In / Fullers Ridge 

Storm Rolling In / Fullers Ridge 

From 2 PM yesterday until 9 PM last night, we didn’t stop walking. We ended up crushing 24 miles with 10k of elevation loss as we rolled into the road, called an Uber, and got to a hotel. The storm ended up missing us, but not by much. Sprinkles began falling from the sky as we finished our hike in the dark last night. My feet are tired. My legs are now shredded again. It feels like I’m on Trail again, only this time it feels more right than ever.

Its been 209 miles of pure bliss. Today is Day 10, and we finished our hike last night on Day 9. Today is my first zero day, and I may or may not be at a casino about to gamble some bucks in hopes of a jackpot!  

Catch up soon. 

 *Late Last Minute Edit: just won $500 at the casino!