Southern California: Big Bear City to Agua Dulce
May 23, 2003
I awoke with a purpose this morning, in decided contrast to the previous morning, when
I truly had nothing to do. I called Frank to arrange a meeting time and needled the
others into getting ready. I wanted to be back out there, out where life was simple
and good and direct. I wanted to experience more, to live life to its fullest for
it was dawning on me that the summer was short and the fall would soon see me
back in Indiana in my office, sitting by a computer typing out some worthless
paper or inane exam.
Frank arrived at 8 and we piled into his little Mitsubishi: Frank, Sharon,
Will, Glory, and I, plus all our packs. It was a tight fit, but the drive to
the Lumberjack cafe was a short one: Two blocks. A potato-sausage omelet,
hashbrowns, toast, coffee, orange juice, and cinnamon roll later, I felt
bloated but still ready to go. Frank's car protested over the extra weight
as we moved slowly up Van Dusen Canyon road. The road is not paved, and
our ground clearance was non-existent. We scraped over rock and pebble,
spider and dust-mite. Will suggested that we could walk the rest of the
way up, as Frank's Mitsu was obviously taking damage. Frank said no. Another
clang and scrape and Sharon voiced the same concern. Frank said it would be
alright. I thought otherwise, but kept quite since Frank was a man possessed:
He was going to deliver us to the trailhead, period. We finally reached the
top and Frank stopped his drive.
Frank left us happy and content, another crew of hikers delivered safely.
We all had the feeling that he had done this a few times before. He also left a
small wet spot in the dust of Van Dusen Canyon road where he parked while we
unloaded. I pinch a bit of the damp soil between my figures and smelled it:
Gasoline, no doubt. Frank's Mitsubishi should get him down the hill and back
into town, but he'll be visiting a mechanic in it with his next trip. I walked
over to the small creeklet to get some water and sit still for a moment before
setting north again. When I returned, Will and Sharon had set forth, although
Glory was still in the area. During my time off in Big Bear, I had forgotten that
I wanted to make a change in the relationship that Glory and I had. I just
couldn't continue walking with her in the manner that we were. If only she
was more independent, like Will and Sharon were. If only she could camp by
herself or find water by herself or find the trail by herself. She was such a
nice person, but I felt like I had a shadow, and that was exactly what I
neither wanted nor needed during my summer of freedom. But, how do you tell
a person you don't want to hike with them? How do you tell them to go away?
It is easy if you do not care for them. It is very hard when you do.
Glory seemed to read my mind from my darkening face and left me to my own devices
for a while. The earthy pines brought back a flood of memories from the hike in
the Big Bear. That time had felt so full and lush. I felt so fortunate to be
able to continue on. To not be Hermit George cooped up in a Motel 6 room, eating
take out Mexican food, and watching CNN all day, hoping the doctor
might produce a miracle cure for his knee. He really wanted to be out here.
I completely understood and sympathized. Looking back at the lake, I wished
him the best of luck, hoping that a miracle cure might be in store for him.
The rest of the day was lazy, walking along a few serene creeks, climbing
shortly and gently, and going down just as smoothly. This was a veritable
Land of Plenty, a respite from the desert of San Gorgonio pass. A portion of
the trail where life was easy, before entering dealing with more desert near
Cajon Pass and I-15. Holcomb Crossing was our destination for the night.
None of us said, "Let's camp at Holcomb Crossing tonight". To have set a
specific place would have prompted someone to be contrarian. To assert
their independence by camping a mile before or after the Crossing. As silly as
it seemed, it made perfect sense. It just worked
out that way. There was water at the Crossing, there were fire rings. It
was highly civilized living in the outdoors. It was just
far enough from Big Bear to feel like we had gotten somewhere and put us within a
short morning's walk to some hot springs near the Mojave river. The notion of
sitting in a hot pool of water during a hot afternoon in the desert was not
very appealing to me, but it felt like it should be.
Tomorrow was Glory's 19th birthday, and the third in a row that she had spent
on a trail somewhere. She spent her 17th birthday on the Appalachian trail,
which she was hiking with two of her younger siblings. Her father eventually
came and took her off the trail, thinking her a bit too young to be out
and in charge of two people even younger than she. Last summer she hiked the
entire Appalachian trail, this time without her siblings, finishing in a
quick 4 months. In celebration, we had a fire, our second of the trail.
Of course, it doesn't start to get dark until near 9 pm and most hikers are
asleep by 9:15, so campfires are necessarily short and small. Besides, I
preferred to watch the stars come out to watching the glow of burning wood.
I had missed my nightly star show the past two nights by sleeping in the
comfortable, but confined, bed of Motel 6. Laying on my thin camping pad,
I could say for certain in which place I'd rather spend the night. My desire
for a soft bed was gone, for now at least. The woods were my home and the Mojave
river my destination for tomorrow. It was so simple, laying here under the stars
and pines. So perfect.
Sharon was up early, fussing about, then disappearing for a while. A bit
puzzled, Glory and I set out, as usual, while Will still dozed. We came quickly
upon Sharon's handiwork: A Happy Birthday sign strung across the trail, suspended
between two trees. Glory, following behind, could not see it until we were right
upon it. I stepped out of the way just before seeing it and Glory was stunned and
very pleased that Sharon had gone through the trouble. The day heated up quickly and
by 10 it was in the upper 90s already. The hot springs seemed less and less of a
good idea. When we arrived at the hot springs an hour later, they looked
even less appealing. The trail ran above the springs along a mountainside
and we could see quite well the inhabitants. Several hairy, burned pink bodies
lounged about near the shoreline, occasionally dipping into the water
to cool their burned bodies, occasionally near the hot spots for some reason
unfathomable to me. Glory said she was going down, and I wished her luck. I
continued along the trail till it curved over toward Deep Creek, but away from
the hot springs, and then hiked off trail for few yards to a cool, shaded spot
with boulders to sit on with feet in the cool water. Glory arrived a few seconds
after I did, apparently less than enthused to spend time with a large group of
fat, hairy, middle aged men. Instead, we spent near an hour lounging in the
shade, with Glory frolicking in the water and nearly losing her food bag to the
swift current. I washed up a bit and ate, finishing just as Will and Sharon arrived.
We set off down the trail together, but my rest in the shade and cool
provided me with quite a bit of energy, despite the hot noontime sun.
I pulled away from the others, reveling in the stark, dry landscape of Deep Creek.
This was a land unlike what I was used to, even out here in the West. A land
so parched and dry that it was as if it had committed some evil act in the
primordial times of the earth and was being punished for its sins even today.
This was a shallow view, and I soon realized it. Life existed and thrived
even here. Small lizards sat here and there. Birds chirped from the
bushes occasionally. A delicate flower bloomed next to the ever fragrant
sage. Each bit of life was intense and highlighted in a way that, say, the
southern Appalachian mountains will never know. There, life is cheap and
everywhere. Plants and animals abound in numbers and diversity.
Life is so piled on top of itself that it is difficult to
appreciate each individual part, each member of the living world. One has to
take a global perspective to appreciate the land there. Here,
in this valley, every bit of life was special precisely because it was
rare, precisely because life was not stacked upon life. Because the
land was uncluttered, each bit stood out and proclaimed its own
significance: It was alive in a hostile land.
Pleased with myself and with my ego satisfied, the hot day and powerful
sun had little effect upon me. My mind and joy were carrying me through what
could be, what should be, a hard walk. As the reality of the physical
conditions began to sink in again, I reached the top of a climb to gaze
upon one of the sillier sights that I had seen before: A dam on the
The Three Forks Dam was a monument to wasted money, resources, and effort. At this
time of year it seemed to be holding back a bathtub's worth of water. The
greenness of the irrigated valleys beyond it testified to its good works, but I
could not help but laugh at the folly of the builders who thought it was a
good idea to put a dam in the middle of one of the driest places on Earth.
Chuckling to myself as I descended to the dam and crossed underneath it,
I came to the outlet flow: A 10 yard wide placid flow of hot water, with plenty of
swampy growth and wet sand. A hiker was sitting in the sun, her shoulders
burned pink. Tracy, aka T-Bone, had started hiking from Campo with the main pack
but had to get off the trail to return for graduation from Colorado College.
She was starting up again but not feeling terribly well. I wanted to tell her
to cover up, to get out of the sun, but I did not. I didn't want people
telling me how to hike, and so I didn't tell her anything. Will, Sharon,
and Glory showed up and we forded the river to some shade on the other side
before settling in for a rest, hoping to wait out the last of the afternoon
heat before setting forth once again. There was a store ahead, a rumor of an
oasis with cold drinks and water from a tap. The idea made us all happy.
Not so much to reach a bit of civilization (indeed, that was its downside), but
rather to reach some of the fruits of civilization that really seemed important.
Leaving the shores of Mojave River, Glory and Will took the lead, powering
ahead, with Sharon and I in between them and T-bone, bringing up the rear.
Will and Glory kept motoring, right past a sign at a dirt road crossing
that indicated that the store was closed and no water available there.
I called to them to stop and think about where they might get water for the
night and the morrow. Unaware of the sign, they seemed confused that I
was hesitating. A cache nearby was completely empty. We would have to walk
back to the river to get water. It was 16 miles from here to the
next water at Silverwood Lake, a distance we couldn't make tonight without
walking until very late. Water took precedence. Sharon, a veteran of several
long trails, took charge, strolling over to a run down ranch house to ask for
water. Ignoring the barking dogs, she was determined to get water and avoid
walking back to the river. Meekly, T-bone, Will, and I stood just off the
property while Sharon and Glory rapped on the door of the house. No one
home. Fortunately, a man working on the grounds was there, and he offered the
owner's water to us for free. The owner had helped out a group of hikers the day
before who were in the same situation and he was sure the owner would not mind
doing so again. Water was life out here, and life was good again. We filled
up from the tank, thanked the worker again, and walked past the now docile
The four of us quickly left T-bone behind as we climbed up into the hills above
the valley, the sun casting that special light of dusk upon the quaint
agricultural scene rapidly falling away beneath us. The sun sank lower and
still no flat ground. Darkness began to fall as we reached the road where
were to detour to the now closed store. Beer cans and rubbish convinced us that
it might not be the best place to camp. Winds picked up to a howl and we pushed on,
the day nearing 30 miles. Finally, we crossed a spur ridge leading out toward the
valley. I picked my way through the brush to find a bit of a clearing on the
ridge and pronounced it good. We left a arrow made of rock for T-bone to
find us, if she made it up her.
The routine of the end of the day was becoming habit: Throw out a ground cloth and
sleeping pad, cook and eat dinner, write in the journal, and think about
the water sources tomorrow. Tonight was different though: Sharon had packed a
no-bake, instant Jello cheesecake from Big Bear for Glory's birthday. T-bone
showed up just in time for dessert. With a belly full of ramen noodles and
instant cheesecake, I walked further down the spur ridge to find a
little private nook for a toilet, one complete with a view of the last bits of
the sunset. Tomorrow held much potential: A large lake (Silverwood) with
lots of water, the end of the San Bernadino mountains at Cajon
Pass, a McDonalds and a gas station at the interstate crossing, and the beginning
of the San Gabriels, the last mountain chain of the Los Angeles area.
I went to sleep anxious for the morning; anxious to live another day out here
on the PCT. Anxious for another day spent in freedom and happiness.
Time to go. With short water and interesting things ahead, I left camp early, wanting
to make Silverwood lake early in the morning and Cajon Pass by early afternoon.
That would provide a cool place to rest and eat during the heat of the afternoon.
Then, only a few more miles and camp for the night. Seemed simple. Didn't happen.
The stroll toward Silverwood lake was straightforward enough, with Glory following
me out of camp and Will and Sharon still in their bags. Silverwood was a man
made lake and one of the largest in the area.
Arriving at a gravel access road, the true way became lost. Glory went one
direction, I in another. No blazes or markers that we could see. Some tracks in
the gravel indicated that others had lost their way here as well. Finally,
we assumed that the trail must go up, so up we went, climbing steeply up
an access road. At the top, we realized out error. The spillway for the
dam was between us and the other side. We had to go back down and cross the
spill way. Seemed very obvious then. At the bottom, Will had caught up. We
walked out to the paved highway, crossed the spillway on a bridge, and then went
up the other side. The route around Silverwood lake was circuitous with many
branches dodging off here and there to go anywhere but where we wanted to go.
The track we were following was obviously not the PCT as it was impossible
for a horse to make it through the underbrush and low branches. The
trail did spit us out on the recreation area's main road. A glimpse
at the map showed the trail crossing the road somewhere ahead. Rather
than going back into the maze of use-trails, we decided to walk the road.
Arriving at the trail crossing, we followed it back to a picnic area,
where there was a bathroom and a spigot of water.
Sharon arrived and laughed at our morning's route: She had found the right way
through. The morning was starting to heat up as we left, climbing up and out of
the recreation area and onto the high ridges ringing it. Views back to Silverwood
were a constant companion, disappearing only once we dropped off the ridge on the
other side. The effects of the large body of water were very evident the
further we got from the lake. The lush green countryside began to brown until
we were back in high desert: Sage, manzanita, desert flowers. This time
something was different. An odd smell in the air, carried from far away.
A sweet, tempting smell that had not occurred before during this trip. I knew I
had smelled it before, but could not place the memory. Will noticed it as well
and was equally at a loss. The breeze picked up as we climbed higher and higher
toward prominent mountains and the land began to fall away at our feet. Topping
out, we gazed down upon the valley of Cajon Pass and I-15. The smell was
of the ocean. Out of sight, but its presence was felt. Stark desert,
burned in a wildfire a few years ago, contrasted with the sweet, salty
smell of an ocean many miles away, separated from us by land and a thick layer
of haze from Los Angeles.
I had to stop. I had to have this all to myself. The others must go on and
leave me to myself at this point. I stepped off the trail to go to the bathroom
and Will and Glory went ahead. I sat down to think and enjoy the breeze, the
sun somehow less intense, even in the open. Sharon came by and knew. She
knew that I was feeling it and needed to be by myself to keep it. She
wandered down the trail and I eventually saw her stop with Will and Glory on a
lower ridge a few minutes down the trail. I was so comfortable up
there and I did not want to leave. I knew that once I would started to descend
the ocean would vanish and I would again be in a fire and sun burned land.
I saw the others go and still I sat, munching on a candy bar, just smelling
and looking. The long grey line of I-15 with its railroad companion struck a
line through the valley. Small dots were moving along it. People going to
work, to visit friends. To do something. I was doing nothing and wouldn't
have changed places with them for anything. It was too perfect, there on the
Knowing that this too must end, I took comfort in the knowledge that I
would regain the same feeling later on in the summer. I had had great
experiences already on the trail and I was sure more would come. It
was time to get to the Interstate and resupply. Dropping off the ridgeline, the
ocean breeze vanished and it was hot again. As I neared the highway,
I lost my way on the myriad of trails in the area. I eventually settled on a
cross country route that went in the general direction I wanted to go.
Ten minutes later I was standing at a run down barbed wire fence, with a
small road on the other side leading to a bright red and yellow sign proclaiming
a McDonalds. Hopping the fence, I made my way quickly to the McDonalds, which was
packed with lunch time highway dwellers. I did not notice them, but instead
found my friends munching on some fastfood delicacies, in which I joined them
Outside of the McDonalds were several new thruhikers, in addition to
one that we had met at Van Dusen Canyon road on the way into Big Bear.
Jason, Dave (later known as F' n' Shizz), and El Dorado
had been hiking together with Jason's wife, who had gotten off the trail to
nurse badly blistered feet. Much fun, meeting these new people. Laying around
in the artificially green, thick carpet of grass outside the McDonalds,
it struck me why people like lawns. A good rest spot before now was a patch
of dirt with a little shade. Laying in plush grass was so much more
relaxing, especially with several liters of iced tea in my hands.
I bought supplies at the gas station, including several large, individually
wrapped Mrs. Field's cookies. I would fine these cookies at only one other
store on the trail (Sierra City), which was a shame because they were true
masterpieces of baking. Around 350 calories each and dripping with fat and
sugar, they were my yardstick by which all other resupply points were
Having been told not to rely on water caches, and having practiced this so far,
I (and the others) decided to do something different and rely upon a
water cache 6 miles ahead. After all, it was another Trail Ratz cache, and
they had been very reliable so far. It was another long 15 miles or so
from the cache to the next water, and I didn't want to haul a full load
coming out of Cajon Pass. So, I carried only a single bag of water with me
out of the soft grass and under the interstate.
The sun had cooled and the ocean breezes departed as we began the climb into the
San Gabriels from the pass. Climbing up through Mormon Rocks, a popular
rock climbing area, my spirits regained the feeling on the other side of the
pass. Out here and free, I thought, what could be better? Reaching the
top of the climb, life got even better, with the cool, late afternoon
sun shining just enough for warmth and providing long reaching vistas toward
the main San Gabriel range. We were still in the foothills and were not
planning on going into the main range today. The rest of the day was
supposed to be easy. Just a few more miles to the cache, then dinner and
camping for the night.
I began to worry about the cache. What if it was gone? My water bag was down
to around a pint of water. Not enough to get me to Guffy Campground and the
next water. Surely, the 50 gallon cache could not be empty. I encountered
Will inspecting some empty jugs of a small cache. Certainly, this wasn't the
main cache. A mile up, I came around a bend in the trail to see a Trail Ratz
cache, with many, many gallon jugs of water inside it. I kicked a few: Empty.
I nudged some more: Empty. I went through all 50 containers: All empty.
I had played a bad card not taking enough water with me out of the pass.
Another thruhiker was there. Smokey stepped out of some brush where he had
set up camp and explained that the Trail Ratz came out to fill up the
cache once a week, on Sundays. It was Saturday in the early evening. No
reason to stop here, we thought, as we didn't have enough water to cook. Might as
well start the climb up into the San Gabriels now while it was cool. We
started to motor, with the idea of stopping at the first food campsite
after 7. Up and up we went, Glory and I striking out ahead. Higher and higher
we climbed, with no camping possible when 7 rolled around. Glory was
out in front and we were pushing hard. The temperature began to fall and the
cold desert night come on. Higher and higher, faster and faster. We were a
machine then: No stopping, slowing, or resting. Just higher and higher into the
mountains, hoping for something flat. Nothing, until we crested out onto a dirt
road, where three disheveled thru hikers were cooking. Drenched in sweat, with
the temperature near 50, it was not comfortable to sit for long. Lil' Strider,
Elkman, and Able sat in the road cooking a dinner, planning to camp 50 yards away,
in the road, around the corner. They were hoping to avoid bears by cooking
away from their camp and didn't seem to appreciate my telling them that the
bear could follow their scent 50 yards back to their camp. Sharon and
Will showed up and we went off looking for our own spot. Tired from
our fast climb, I just wanted to camp. Nothing. A small clearing not large
enough for one presented itself. We kept going. Another 1/4 mile and we
left the small plateau, where the trail struck out on the side of a
mountain. We couldn't camp further on and had to go back and look for something.
Backtracking a few yards, I spotted a small gap in the manzanita. Peeking
through I found the perfect campsite: Clear, flat, open, protected from the
breeze by some bushes. Thrilled, I did my best impersonation of an ape,
complete with grunts, flailing arms, and hopping about. Suge changed to
Sugarmonkey, which was to stick for the next few weeks. Setting up camp
took a minute and food was quickly eaten. All in time for another glorious
sunset. Looking down, over the manzanita, we could see the trail of lights from
I-15, several thousand feet below us. How perfect.
Water was on my mind this morning. Dehydrated from yesterday because of my own
foolishness, my body was protesting against the effort necessary to make it to Guffy
Campground, quite a ways away, it seemed. Glory set out a few minutes before me, which
meant I had the early morning sunrise all to myself. Even with my thirst and tired body,
I could still appreciate the still morning, when all seemed possible.
Forty minutes into the days walking, I came across Glory talking with Dave Carson, who
had apparently camped in a manzanita thicket the night before. He had good news:
We had walked right past a water cache. While I was happy to hear of water,
I was made that I had missed it. I stomped back with a small thankyou to Dave,
fuming as I went. Why couldn't I have seen it? Why did I have to stare at the sunrise
so much? Ten minutes went by and I passed Will: He missed the cache. Twenty minutes
went by and I passed Sharon: She found the cache. Thirty minutes go by: I found
the cache. Almost back to where I started this morning. A whole, cool morning
spent making no forward progress. All I had to show for the morning was a
beautiful sunrise. I was in a mood that made that seem like petty compensation.
Guzzling water and resting, I let Glory take the majority of the water and then I
took the rest. Enough to get me to Guffy with a little thirst, but manageable. I
felt sorry for the other hikers who were also out of water: We drained the cache.
Even with the new water, my body just could not recover fast enough from its dehydration.
Energy was low and my pace was slow. This was a scenic stretch of trail and I tried to
appreciate it as much as I could. I huffed and puffed during the climb up into
the San Gabriels, passing true alpine settings and rounding Mount San Antonio
before arriving in Guffy Campground around 10 am. The remnants from a gay, hippy
party were around, with a few late sleepers still in camp and a table full of
food. A man was cooking. I asked him if he knew where water was. He didn't,
but he offered some of his group's. They had plenty and were leaving in a few
hours anyways. Greedily, I filled up my water bags. More hikers came in:
Sharon and Glory, F'n' Shizz and Jason, Yogi and Booboo. The man started cooking
frittatas and set out some more food from the night before. He waved us over and
invited us to dine. After all, he said, we have all this extra food and are going
home soon. Grapes, apples, cheese, carne asada, spinach-basil-swiss frittata,
hummus, bread, candy, beer, soda, water. We feasted. By now, the entire crew was up.
Interesting characters all around and much fun to spend some time with.
Photos were taken and thank-yous were spread around liberally.
The additional food did little to help my still dehydrated body and I knew the rest of the
day would be a challenge. Will and Sharon set off, determined to make it over Mount
Baden-Powell tonight, the highest point in Southern California and a mountain that
routinely gets more snow that some peaks in the Sierra Nevada. Without a drive to
get anywhere, I tried, and failed, to spend some time thinking on my own. Glory slowed
her pace to match mine and I still did not have the mental discipline or ability to
think well with others around. We reached the base of Baden-Powell on the Angeles Crest
Highway to find a small mob of tourists and day hikers. No matter, once we started to
climb they would disappear. There was a spring about half way up Baden-Powell and I
planned to get water there and then camp, hoping for a stronger day tomorrow after
having spent this one paying for the previous one. Glory and I powered our way up
hill, passing several families on route. Then several clutches of day hikers. What
were they doing up here? Didn't they know it was uphill and so, therefore,
off limits to casual hikers? They were supposed to be weak and fat and unmotivated.
Instead, families with little kids were slowly making their way up to the springs.
They were enjoying themselves in the national forest, even if I thought it was
my own personal domain, open only to myself and others willing to haul a
pack through it and sleep under its trees.
I was in the midst of pondering the error of my ways, when we arrived at the junction
to the springs and saw Will and Sharon's pack. They should have been over the
mountain by now, which means their plans had changed. They were near the spring
and were tired. They had found a small flat area on which to camp, but there
were two other hikers there. Eager to meet some more new hikers, I filled up
all of my water bags from the spring using Glory's water bottle, and then
trotted over to meet the new people. Sunburn, from England, had hiked the
Appalachian trail with Sharon in 1998 and had no idea that she was out here this
summer. From England, he had spent much of his life traveling and was much fun to
talk to. Steady, a woman, was in her mid forties and was spending the summer
and fall hiking while her husband, Steve, stayed in Oklahoma and sent out
mail drops for her and occasionally visited.
I felt much better here in camp, having consumed a large amount water to make up
for yesterday's deficiency.
Tomorrow should prove interesting, as there is snow above us, our first
significant accumulation since Idyllwild. The trail goes within about
1/4 mile of the summit of Baden-Powell, from whose rocky, bald top it is
possible to see Telescope Peak, all the way off in Death Valley. I wanted to
spend sometime this evening thinking and philosophizing with Sunburn, but alas
the body was too tired and the mind too weary. I got a short peak as the the
stars came out before quickly falling away into sleep.
Morning came and by body was ready. Yesterday seemed a world away, both
physically and mentally. My body was primed and ready to go and I seemed to
have turned a corner in my hike. I no longer felt that I had just been out hiking,
but rather was on a long trip, whose conclusion was still uncertain. I didn't
know if I could make it all the way to Canada, but it really didn't matter. That
was the corner that I had turned: No longer did I have a destination in mind,
but rather a time. I had close to three months longer to hike and when that
time was up, I was finished. Be it in Canada, Washington, or Oregon. The
freedom gained by this new point of view was stunning to me and I
contemplated it during the morning's walk.
The trail up Baden-Powell became snow covered quickly and any hope of
following it was lost. Instead, I could see where the trail went in general
(up the mountain side) and followed it. Without switchbacks, the trail was
steep and the snow made my footing a bit unsure. The climb was enjoyable, though,
in the cold early morning air and sun. Topping out on a high ridge, the summit
of Baden-Powell could be seen easily from the trail, a mere 200 yards and
perhaps 100 feet up. An easy side trip. A bit of hard snow and a little
sweat later, I stood on top with Will, admiring the views all around.
I could not make out Telescope Peak, nor the Sierra, but the view was glorious
nonetheless. Three hundred and sixty degrees of views and not a soul around
except for Will and, eventually, Glory. I rested for a while, soaking up the
land at my feet and very pleased that it was so quiet and restful up here.
I was sure that there would be hoards on top in a few hours and that
the experience would be dulled by them. I appreciated the outdoors so much more
when there were fewer people out, and I think most people feel the same way.
However, limiting the number of people that can set out on a given day didn't
seem like the answer. I wanted as many people in the forest as possible. The more
people that came out and enjoyed the public lands, the more resistance there
would be to logging it or mining it or otherwise tampering with it. I, or anyone
else, for that matter, could avoid the crowds by coming early or late. That
special feeling was here and now, but later it would not be. The views would be
the same, but the essence of the place changed by those who were in it.
Back at the PCT, Sharon had arrived and was heading up to the summit along with
three fathers and their sons, all Boy Scouts, making the trek up to the top of
the peak that was named in honor of the founder of Scouting. They had come up
all the way from the bottom this morning, hoping for a bit of solitude on
top of the peak. They knew what they were doing and what they were headed for.
All of us understood, backpackers and dayhikers alike. I set off along the PCT,
knowing, and not caring, that the trail would be a rollercoaster today, with a
lot of elevation change. Elevation change that would bring me back down to
where it was hot, only to lead me back up to where it was cool.
Passing through the Little Jimmy campground area, we heard of a bear encounter
with several thruhikers. Several people lost all or part of their food for
their folly of staying in a developed site. The site had water, which was
much appreciated, but to stay in it was to ask for bears to show up. Bears are
clever creatures and have learned to associate certain areas with food.
Once they learn that a particular area might be a good spot to get food, they
return time and time again. Developed campgrounds, where people stayed and
left food out, were prime feeding areas. The bear at Little Jimmy knew this and
later lost his life to a ranger's bullet at the end of the summer, after
causing quite a bit of trouble. The carelessness of the people who used
Little Jimmy contributed highly to the death of the bear. From here north,
I would stay in one or two developed campgrounds, choosing instead to camp
in the woods, without structure around and without night time visitors.
On a more comical note, Team France, the two Frenchmen we had met during the
climb up Mission Creek, had stayed at Little Jimmy that night. How they
got ahead of us was unclear, as they certainly took a day off in Big Bear City and
were moving at a rate significantly slower than we were. Reaching the
Angeles Crest highway yet again (we had been crossing it repeatedly over
the past day), Will and I began the climb up Mount Williamson in the
dead of the noontime heat. Sweat rolled off of me and very quickly I was
drenched. Happy that my body had plenty of water in it to shed, I continued to where
the trail topped out (short of the summit) and flung my shirt off into the
trees. I wanted to be out in the open air and give my shirt a chance to dry a
bit before continuing. Will arrived shortly after, with Sharon and Glory
a few minutes back. It was absolutely stunning on top and the highway could not
be seen from on top. Only mile after mile of southern Californian mountains, trees,
and valleys. The highway was only a few miles away, yet it could have been a million,
for all I could tell. No developments or powerlines, cell towers or water tanks.
Just the land and a trail marking the only intrusion of man into the area.
Was I really just a few miles from the Los Angeles area, with its tens of
millions of inhabitants? From here, the answer was a definite NO.
Even this great spot must be left, even with a crowded stretch of trail ahead.
The trail would bend in and out of several national forest campgrounds and
this was a weekend. People would be out and about and the quiet of the
forest would be lost. No that it mattered much. I had had a wonderful morning
and could stand whatever would come on the strength of it alone. Day hikers
were passed, picnics were skirted around. Cars pulled into rest areas and
away. People went about their routine and I went about mine. Late in the
day I found myself alone with no one around, the result of a falling out between
Glory and myself, but mostly because I stopped for water when the others pushed
on. Hiking alone was golden, and I savored the time. I came across Glory and
Team France in a bit of shade near a mosquito infested river. Team France
was cooking dinner, which I had no intention of doing with the bugs in the air.
Instead, I moved off to the Glenwood Boy Scout camp, with Glory in tow.
The camp was deserted but there was a pipe pull of water and a few picnic tables
to sit on while cooking dinner. With the stories of the bear at Little Jimmy
fresh in our heads, none of us had any desire to stay the night here where
we ate. Midway through dinner, Team France arrived and decided to camp, however.
Wishing them well, we decided to push on for another couple of miles to separate
ourselves from the smell of a cooked meal. Near a place called Three Points on the
Angeles Crest highway, Will and I discovered a wonderful treasure trove: A freshly
placed cooler with cold drinks and a bag of cut up fruit. Pineapple, melon, grapes,
strawberries. A perfect way to end a hot, long day. With the sun going down,
the four of us found a small knoll on which to camp and dove into our sleeping bags
to escape the mosquitoes. The end of the trail in the Los Angeles area was coming
to an end. I had another two days of hiking in the San Gabriels before reaching
their end near Agua Dulce. Then, a mere 250 miles to the Sierra Nevada. Of course,
part of those 250 miles were across the Mojave desert and I had two friends
that would be hiking with me for a few days. I was two days ahead of schedule,
which meant two days of lounging in Agua Dulce, trying to get fat and
well hydrated and rested. Two days of laying on a bed of grass and taking showers and
having all the cold drinks I could possibly want. It was only two
days away. A fair trade, I thought, for walking 450 miles.
Even in the morning, it was clear that the day was going to be hot. We were nearing
the end of the San Gabriels and drawing closer to the Mojave desert. Elevation
was slowly diminishing and the heat of the day beginning earlier and earlier.
My body was adjusting well to the heat, though, as long as I drank enough
water. No foot problems, no knee problems. Just a water problem.
In the joy of walking in the early morning, I missed a trail junction to a
developed horse camp where there was a water spigot. No worries, I assured myself.
There was supposed to be another source ahead. As the heat of the day began to
rise, there was still no source. I was out of water. With visions of the
start of the San Gabriels dancing in my head, I rounded a corner and
found the rest of the crew sitting at a small trickle of water along with a
new hiker. Jim aka Bigfoot was from Dunsmuir, CA, a town I'd been to a few years ago.
quaint and set near the base of Mount Shasta in the north. He was walking
home, in some sense, but planned to get off at Kennedy Meadows, the start of
the Sierra. We exchanged the standard greetings and information and everyone set
out, except for me. I still had to coax water from the trickle. It took me
a while to get the water out of the trickle and into my waterbags, but it
The day rolled on, hot and an open. The openness of the trail provided great views,
but also meant that I was in the sun most of the day. Because I hiked completely
covered up, I didn't have to use sunscreen and my skin was still very pale.
Many hikers were determined to hike in shorts and t-shirt and rely upon
sunblock for protection from the sun. I don't think it worked too well, and they
would probably agree with me. As with the previous night, we cooked dinner
in an established campground before setting off for a few more miles of hiking
before bedtime. There were bears out here and none of us wanted an
encounter at night. Besides, the early evening hiking got us to one of the
most scenic campspots I'd ever come across. Sheltered under a great old pine,
with a beautiful orange-purple sunset framed between two large hills and, just
to the north, a view down into the lights of distinct towns, far below in the
valley. Pleasantly warm with enough of a breeze to keep the mosquitoes away,
it was sheer heaven. We were up on the Santa Clarita divide, next to an
old dirt road and it was perfect. I lounged in my sleeping bag for a while,
watching the sky change colors and stars come out. My usual, pre-sleeping
Tomorrow I'll reach Agua Dulce and the end of the Los Angeles portion of
the PCT. I'd been on this track since Idyllwild and was now facing the Mojave.
But, across the Mojave were the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains; a challenge
of a different sort. After my two days of rest waiting for my friends Andrew
and Patrick, I'll have two easy days of hiking with them as I'll need to slow down
from a normal 25 mile day to a 12 or 15 mile day. I'll also be leaving my little
trail family for a while. Will, most likely, will not take much time off
in Agua Dulce and Glory has mentioned taking only one day off. Sharon is
also meeting friends in Agua Dulce for some day hiking on Friday, the day
my friends arrive, so I should see her again. Will I probably won't, unless
he takes some unexpected time off. I am looking forward to seeing my
friends, but I also really want some time completely to my own. Not just a
bit of time during the day, but the entire day, for days on end. I have not
yet camped by myself on this trail. The summer is long, but my time out here
grows less and less with each passing day. I need some space and time for myself,
with no schedules or commitments. Time to breath the fresh air with no
one around and exhale a bit of happiness. Time is for living and really seems to
be the most luxurious of pleasures. And, best of all, it is completely free.
After less than three weeks on the trail, I've become highly skilled at determining
the weather for the day based on the weather during the early morning. This morning,
all signs pointed toward hot. Very hot. First, it was warm even at 5:30 am, when I
started walking. Second, the sky went from dark to blue almost immediately; no
intermediate stage of light grey. It didn't matter, I thought. I'll be in Agua
Dulce in no time flat. In my dreams of the previous night, Vanilla Ice
continuing appeared, droning a slow, "Ice Ice Baby". Despite my best efforts
this inane chant raged in my head the whole morning. I confessed my weakness to
Will and a ranger station where we stopped for water. Two thruhikers were there:
Lou and Wahoo. I told Will, "Word to your mother," to which he responded, "Yo,
lets get out of here." Lou, not knowing what was going on, was rather surprised when
Will and I abruptly left.
The heat had built and was raging even at 10 am. My time between breaks dropped
as I hustled for a bit of shade to cool off in. With temperatures in the upper
90s, getting into a bit of shade provides quite a bit of cooling. A bit of
a breeze dries the sweat off of your skin and the evaporation promotes cooling. Nice,
neat, and comfortable. After a few minutes, you stop sweating and dry out. Not so
this morning. The temperature had already broken 100 degrees when I sat panting at
the Santa Clara river, near Soledad Canyon road, after a fruitless search for a
country store listed in the guidebook. Lou and Wahoo were here, along with Team
France and Jason. Sharon and Will and Glory had all pushed on ahead, on a mission for
Agua Dulce. I wanted, needed, to sit by this little trickle that bore the bombastic
name of river. I was in the shade, but still sweating 30 minutes after arriving.
I didn't want to walk the last 10 miles or so into Agua Dulce. It was hot and exposed and
there was uphill to be done. Finally I screwed up enough pluck to venture out into the sun,
leaving the other hikers to a hitch hike on the road. Although none of them said so,
I was sure they would beat me into Agua Dulce by putting out their thumbs. It
was the sort of day that no one wanted to hike in: The southern Californian
equivalent of walking in a wet, wind driven ice storm in subzero temperatures.
My body poured out perspiration by the bucketload. Jim was out on the hillside with me,
moving even slower than I was. We barely exchanged pleasantries as I passed him going up
hill. It was almost comical how long it took me to go by, like an overloaded
tractor-trailer passing an oiltanker on a long, steep uphill highway. I started
worrying about my water. I thought 2.4 liters would be plenty to get me to
Agua Dulce. I had only been walking in the heat for 40 minutes and I was already parched.
No shade, anywhere. There wasn't a plant large enough to cast a shadow, let alone
a rock big enough for shade and so I
pushed on in the demented hope that my movement would cause a slight breeze. Higher
I climbed, spotting Glory above me, near the top. I couldn't be around her now. I
needed all my strength for myself, for my own struggle. I couldn't afford any to
give to her. As I neared her, I saw her divert off to what looked like a cave,
the first real shade since leaving the river. As much as I wanted the shade, I
knew that I had to stay out here by myself. To join her would make the walk that
much more difficult when we came out. Cresting out, my mood changed. Once on top of
the ridgeline, a slight breeze picked up. I spotted a large, dense bush in the middle
of a sea of brown and yellow grasses. There had to be some shade there. Not because I
wanted there to be shade there, but because Providence would not let someone go
so long without a bit of comfort. The universe worked in a fair manner, as long as
you let it, I thought. I was right this time and there was a small hollow inside the
bush that was completely shaded. I drank my hot water and dreamt of all the
cold drinks at the store in Agua Dulce. Of two days off. Sitting inside the bush, watching
the sea dance with heat, I recovered. Nothing out here was moving except for hikers and
a few birds in the air. The land was still and quite and peaceful and I felt like I
was the center of it all, here in this little oasis. In this dry, harsh land,
each bit of life was special and appreciated and my ego delighted in the idea.
Delighted in being able to move about, however slowly, in this place. I heard
Glory go by, but made no move to follow or alert her to my resting place.
I emerged from my bush into the furnace again with the hopes of making the
tunnel underneath the Antelope Freeway, whose slithery gray back I could see in the
valley below me. I was down to a pint of water with a good five miles left to walk to
get to Agua Dulce. I was only mildly afraid, hoping that once again the universe
would be in order and things would work out; I just had to let them. Heat and
sun poured on and sweat coated everything. My body was putting forth such an effort
to cool me, and the sun and dry air sucking it away as fast as possible, that I
had constantly expanding salt pans on my shoulder straps. On my hat. On my
bandanna. On my shirt. All the accumulated junk in my body was being forced out along
with the salt. My body would be clean, after this last effort. A mile went by in the
sea, with only an occasional cactus or bush to break up the landscape of hills and ridges
and rock and grass. Another mile and I was close to the tunnel. I could see where I
was headed now, which made the time pass ever more slowly. My distances were no longer
measured in miles, but rather in feet. Just walk another 100 feet, I told myself.
No reason to take a break now, you can make it another 100 feet, you loafer.
You faker. Can't you walk another hundred feet? Come on, old man, just put a
little effort in.
Entering the tunnel was more relief than I could take. Pitch black after the
brightness of the day, cool, moving air, and a little trickle of
water provided sanctuary for me. At the end of the tunnel I found a few mini
Snickers bars, cool and unmelted in my sanctum. Jim showed up, and it
became our sanctum. Our place of rest before making the last push to Agua
Dulce and the end of the Los Angeles area. The end of the San Gabriels.
I put my water bag into the trickle of water and ten minutes later had lukewarm
water, as opposed to the superheated stuff I had been carrying. As with the
rest inside the bush and the Santa Clara river before it, I stepped out once
again into the heat and sun. Only this time I could make
Agua Dulce in one push. One more bit of effort. Jim and I were both happy entering
Vasquez Rocks, an old hideout of a bandit named Vasquez, who used the odd
rock formations here to lose the lawmen and enraged townsmen who must have looked
for him from time to time. Now, it was a state park with picnic tables, no water
(that I could find), and little signs telling people that this plant was
called Mormon Tea (from which ephedra is derived) and that is sage.
With what joy I stepped out of the park and onto a local road leading into
Agua Dulce, the reader of this will never know. I had come through the hottest
day of the hike so far unscathed, if a little battered. My thirst was
immense. Food was not on my mind, despite not having eaten much today.
I could only imagine quart after quart of lemonade and iced tea. Jim was a quarter
mile or so behind, when I found Sharon drinking a Powerade underneath a tree by the
side of the road. Stunned that she had a drink already, despite the lack of a
store, I wanted to know where the cache was. Where the machine was. Where could
I get another? The remaining half mile was too far, now that I saw her
with a cold, blue drink. At the ranger station, she said. Here, have the
rest, she said. I've already had one.
Sharon was my hero right then and I greedily gulped down the remaining ten ounces or so.
Jim showed up and we made the last walk into Agua Dulce and its store.
A large banner greeted us just before the store, where I proceeded to drink down 3
liters of iced tea and lemonade, fast enough that I hurt my throat on the cold.
I didn't care. I just wanted something cold and wet. The three of us
sat there, on the concrete slab that made up the porch of the store, and rested.
A Jeep packed with obvious hikers pulled up. Need a ride? A little unsure of
what PCT hikers were doing in a car, we told them no. Jim was calling his
wife and we wanted to wait for him. OK, see you at heaven, they responded.
I peeled myself off the concrete slab, leaving a large sweat stain to evaporate,
and the three of us set off for the Saufley's. For heaven.
Jeff and Donna Saufley have been hosting PCT hikers for the past six years, or so,
and are the pre-eminent example of kindness on the trail. After stumbling out of
the inferno, a typical PCT hiker is fairly worn out. The San Bernadino and
San Gabriel ranges have worn them down and the heat of the summer has built.
From Agua Dulce, the trail strikes north to cross a small finger of the Mojave
desert and some of the most hostile land on the trail. Little water, less
shade, and a sure death, I'd been told. In Agua Dulce, the Saufley's
provide a slice of heaven. A place to rest from previous
battles and to gather strength before dealing with Section E: The Mojave. The
Aquaduct walk. The last challenge before the Sierra. I was looking forward to
Section E, partially because I would get to see some old friends for a few days before
setting off completely by myself. The Saufley's had about two dozen hikers,
most of whom I had never seen before. Will was there and clean, as was Sharon.
Jason, Lou and Wahoo, and Team France were all there.
A large expanse of green grass could be seen in the backyard, filled with
hikers in various states of relaxation. Donna greeted us and showed us a
few things. Water information for the upcoming stretch. Snow reports for
the Sierra. Here is where we put our clothes if we want them washed. Here
are some shorts and t-shirts you can use. Here are some sandals. Here
are a few towels. The shower is in the doublewide out back. Computer
and phone are in there, too. Here is where you can sign out one of the
two cars dedicated to hiker use.
A bit stunned, I entered the grassy lawn and flopped into the grass. Yes,
I would enjoy my time here. As much as I liked being out on the trail, I
was tired and needed to recoup some strength. Time passed luxuriously.
I became clean once again. I wore clean, cotton clothes for the first time
since leaving Indiana. I fed voraciously on a 20 inch pizza and procured a
delightful sticker of Britney Spears to adorn my olive oil bottle.
New hikers were met and beer consumed. A few waves of hikers left
in the night, determined to put in fast miles beneath the stars and the moon
and away from the heat of the sun. F' n' Shizz showed up after and 35 mile
day, hungry and broken down. I thought he was going to cry when I gave him
the remaining half of my pizza. It made me feel useful and happy inside.
I got a glimpse of why Jeff and Donna go through the expense and trouble
of hosting hikers. Being kind to others had rewards far greater than
most people realized. I had only given a few slices of pizza to
a hungry hiker and felt a special glow. How must Jeff and Donna feel?