Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Wrightwood, Mile 366, May 12

Wrightwood - When we uploaded our Big Bear City journal , we had the opportunity to download our emails. We were a overwhelmed by the positive responses that we received from many of you. Thank you for your warm emails and words of encouragement; they were very inspiring. It was nice to get such wonderful feedback, and we are glad that you are enjoying the journal entries so much. We will do our best to keep them coming at regular intervals. (We are happy to announce that there are now over 100 folks on our update list. We are hoping to have over a thousand people following along with our trip, by the time we finish, so tell a friend that enjoys backpacking or hiking about our web site. Help spread the word!)

We had a good time in Big Bear City, socializing with many other hikers who wandered into the Fire Department. They provided us with wonderful accommodations (a large, flat lawn) and excellent showers. They firemen were very friendly and did whatever they could to make our stay in Big Bear City a pleasant one. The lawn was lush, green, and very soft, which made for good sleeping (if you managed to drown out the traffic noise with a pair of earplugs, which fortunately, we had). The Fire Department is a real gathering place for hikers and everyone had a good time. They treat hikers so well, in fact, that it is easy to see how some hikers never make it back out onto the trail after a town like Big Bear City. (One of the firemen told us that they actually have to kick some hikers out, because they stay too long). Thanks for the hospitality, Big Bear City Fire Department!

We slept in, on Monday morning, as we had to wait for the Post Office to open before we could leave town. We woke up at about 7 AM, and crawled out of our tent to find that most of the other 6 hikers staying at the Fire Department had already gotten up and wandered off for breakfast. We ate a couple of donuts that a fellow hiker had brought in for the rest of us, and then we went about the task of packing up our gear. By 8:30 AM we were all set and ready to go, so we walked the two blocks to the Post Office and waited for it to open.

As the doors opened, we got in line to collect our float box, which we had mailed ahead from Idyllwild. To our dismay, it still hadn't arrived. We inquired about our options and then decided to have it forwarded on to Agua Dulce, two stops ahead. We were advised to send future packages by Priority Mail to be sure that they get to us on time, and because they have the added bonus of free forwarding. We just thought that it was pretty abysmal that we could mail a package from Idyllwild and then we could WALK to Big Bear City, with 40 lb. packs on our backs, over the roughest mountain trails and still beat our package - by more than two days!

While we were at the Post Office, we managed to sweet talk ourselves a ride back up to the saddle of Hwy 18, outside of town. It would seem that these small town Post Offices are a good place to pick up transportation because there is no home mail delivery and everyone has to make a trip to the P.O. As Scott was reviewing our delivery options with postal worker, Rachel was chatting with the locals and getting our ride out of town set up, so the trip to the P.O. wasn't a total bust. All in all, we were back on the trail by 9:45 AM, not bad!

Being back on the trail after our first rest day was a bit of a shock to our system. Our packs were heavy with all of the extra food that we had just picked up, and our bodies were groaning with the memory of what they were about to endure, "Oh yeah... this again," they said. The first couple of miles passed by and we were conscious of every step that we took. The sun was beating down on us, as we made our way around the backside of Gold Mountain and we were beginning to wander why we had been so eager to leave town and get back out on the trail

Two and a half miles into the hike we came across Doble Trail Camp. We decided to take advantage of the available water, so we dropped our packs and wandered the 50 yards down to the faucet. As we approached, we noticed two hikers sitting at the picnic table (Jim and Mike from San Diego - segment hikers). We sat down to chat for a while and in mid-conversation, Mike asked, "You wouldn't happen to be Rachel, would you?" As it turned out, Mike had been reading our journal online, just before he and Jim had headed out for their segment hike. He asked Scott how his knee was doing and then engaged us in a conversation about the ice storm that we had endured outside of Idyllwild. It was really weird to have a complete stranger talking to us like he knew all about us, but as weird as it was, it was really neat.

After hanging out and chatting with Jim and Mike for about half and hour, we were back on the trail again. It was a long, hot 8 miles to Van Dusen Canyon Road where the guidebook indicates that hikers should pull out to re-supply at Big Bear City. By the time we got there, we felt like we had hiked a full day. It was already about 2 PM and we were wiped out, but at the same time, we realized that we were really only just starting the next section of our hike, as that is where we were originally supposed to come off the trail. Wearily, we began our way up the trail, climbing back up behind Bertha Peak and then eventually out onto the south side of the ridge to get our first good view of Big Bear Lake. Pushing further on, we finally came up onto another ridgeline where we were crossing over onto the north side. The ridge was relatively wide and flat and we found ourselves a nice spot to pitch the tent and bunk down for the night.

It was the first warm night that we have had in some time, despite that we were camped at about 7500 feet. We were worried that the warmth was indicative of a change in the weather pattern and that we were about to encounter hot hiking weather, but thankfully the temperatures never became unbearable. We have been really lucky so far this trip that we have not had to endure scorching hot days (daily temperatures have been averaging around the high 70's). Even so, that was the first morning that we woke up to temperatures above freezing.

We made our way out onto the trail and quickly passed the first six miles of the day as we descended down into Holcomb Valley. We stopped for a quick breakfast at Little Bear Springs Trail Camp before moving on down along the Valley. As we descended, the vegetation changed from the shade of the coniferous pine trees into the low desert scrub brush. We contoured along, above Holcomb Creek, weaving our way in and out of diorite boulders for about 6.5 miles until we finally dropped down to the creek for a crossing. We stopped for a bite to eat and to dip our feet in the cool water (and to dry off after Rachel fell in while making her way to the center of the creek. Oops. Good thing the creek was shallow!)

While we were sitting by the creek crossing, two thru-hikers, Ken and Cindy (from Colorado) came along. We were glad to see them after Big Bear and get news that a couple others, (Eric and Brant) were not too far behind. We had been wondering where other hikers were, that we had left in Big Bear City, and as it turned out, they were just behind us, as they had left late on Monday afternoon, but had put in at Van Dusen Canyon Road, 8 miles ahead of where we had rejoined the trail. After chatting with Ken and Cindy, we settled on a camp spot another six miles further down the trail and were hopeful that Eric and Brant would make it that far too.

The next six miles were tougher going. We have found that we go strong in the mornings, but after about twelve miles or so our feet begin to ache, and we slow down quite significantly. We hobbled our way along the trail, making our way through a 65,000-acre area that had been burned in 1999. There was little to provide us with any kind of shade, and the terrain became more rocky and arduous. At last we began our descent into Deep Creek canyon, where we would camp underneath a 90-foot steel and wood foot bridge that spanned the canyon. We clambered down the banks onto a sandy spit right by the creek and set up camp. We chatted with Ken and Cindy, bathed, did a bit of laundry, and then were settling down to eat dinner when we were finally joined by Brant, and then Eric.

The following morning we were up earlier than usual. One consequence of camping in near proximity to others is that you hear them when they are getting up and ready to go. We awoke at about 5:20 a.m. in the pre-dawn light to find that Eric was up, dressed, and just about ready to pull out of camp (he woke up by use of an alarm clock).. Shortly after he left, we realized that Ken and Cindy were soon to follow his lead. With Brant camped up stream a little ways, that made us the last to leave camp at 6:15 AM. While Rachel was none too pleased about the early start, it was nice to get in a few miles on the trail before the sun climbed over the canyon walls to beat down upon us, without mercy.

Our destination for the morning was Deep Creek Hot Springs. As we pulled out of camp, Scott looked at the guide book and announced that it was 6.8 miles down the trail. We started out strong, setting a good pace, as we were eager to get to the hot springs and submerge our sore and achy bodies in the water. As we trudged along the steep, hot and dry banks of the canyon, 100 feet above Deep Creek, we began to fade, and think that this was positively the longest 6.8 miles we had done in a long time. After stopping to take a break, we finally had another look at the map to see if we could discern how much further the hot springs were, when we realized that we had overlooked a 2.6 mile section of the trail write-up. All of a sudden we realized why this 6.8 miles was dragging so much, because it was actually 9.4 miles. The realization came with a mixture of emotions: we were happy to know that our bodies we not flagging as badly as we had feared, but we were distraught to realize that we still had over a mile to go before we would reach our destination.

The Deep Creek Hot Springs are probably the most beautiful and pristine natural, non-commercial, hot springs that either of us have seen before. Surrounded by dry, arid landscape, these hot springs were nestled in the canyon, in an oasis of lush trees and rich grasses. The pools have been built using rounded river rock and they cascaded into each other. The cold river, which runs right alongside the hot pools, deepened into a basin deep enough to dive into, and calm enough to feel like a lake. A three mile walk in from the nearest road meant that litter and trash were not a problem; people abided by the "pack it in, pack it out" motto. While we had the hot-springs on a quiet Wednesday, it can apparently get really crowded on the weekends. Even being mid week, there were at least half a dozen locals there at any given time.

We finally made it to the hot springs by about 10:30 AM to find Cindy, Ken and Eric all lounging in the pools and we were more than happy to join them. We dumped our packs on the grass, in the shade of a Sycamore tree, stripped off and climbed into the pools. The water ranged from about 90 degrees in "the Cool Pool" to 117 in "the Crab Cooker", and we sampled them all. Anytime we got too hot we would simply cool off by diving into the river beside us.

After soaking for a while, we all climbed out and returned to our packs to dig out some nourishment (it's hard work lounging in all that hot water, you know) and chat with the locals. Collectively, we toyed around with the idea of staying the night. We had only come about 10 miles for the day, but we then we realized that we wouldn't be able to make it to Wrightwood by the time the Post Office closed on Friday afternoon, and as they have no Saturday hours, we would be stuck there until Monday morning anyway. That was it, the decision was made, we were staying. We all gathered up our gear and moved it a little upstream and selected sites to camp. We put up our tent, and then sat back and relaxed in the shade of the trees. While we were sitting there chatting we looked over at the nearby boulders and saw a large rattlesnake, a "Mojave Green", slithering his way between the rocks. He was looking for a cool place to rest during the heat of the day, and he found it in the crack of one boulder, not too far from where we were seated.

As the afternoon wore on, we began to get restless. We had already been in and out of the pools a second time, and it was still only just past 2 PM. Again the question was put out individually, as well as collectively, as to whether we should stay or move on. Gradually we all came to the conclusion that while the hot springs were awesome, we had had our fill and it was time to put in a few more miles before the day was done. We dismantled the tent and packed up our gear for the third time that day, and then headed out onto the hot and dusty trail, each party about 10 minutes ahead of the next.

Back on the trail, we continued to traverse along the steep walls of Deep Creek Canyon. For the last couple of miles we were walking along an old aqueduct buried in the hillside, which made for a good trail. About four miles after the hot springs we came around one bend in the canyon to look further along, and then we realized that the canyon came to an end, and there were no more mountains in the immediate vicinity. It was a very strange sensation to see the canyon open up into a wide valley after we have been walking in canyons and mountain ridges for so long.

When we finally reached the mouth of the canyon, we found ourselves looking down at Mojave River Forks Reservoir Dam, that was almost completely empty (it struck us as somewhat of an oxymoron to have a Mojave Reservoir in the first place, and we found it rather fitting that there is no water in it). We descended down onto the spillway, and then dropped down some more to the mouth of Deep Creek and the continuation of the trail. We walked along the length of the dam looking for a suitable campsite, and we found a sand spit right at the base of a massive culvert where Deep Creek is sucked north, through the dam.

To our amusement, we found that the sand spit on which we had decided to camp was enabled as a result of a large beaver dam, not more than twenty feet from the end of the spit. The water on our side of the beaver's dam was about ankle deep, but on the far side it was about four feet deep - deep enough for Scott to swim in. We couldn't help but laugh that all of this man-made technology and resources were holding back no water, while this little beaver dam was doing a great job at keeping water back. As dusk settled upon us, we heard a loud slap on the water, and we looked up to see the furry engineer swimming away.

We woke up on Thursday morning in the pre-dawn light again. It was 5:30 AM when we started to move and it was cool enough to make us want to get moving quickly so that we would warm up. We had slept in our tent without the rain fly on, and a dew had penetrated through the mesh to make our sleeping bags damp, but we faired rather well compared to Eric who had bivouacked: his sleeping bag was drenched so he elected to stay behind and wait for the sun to come up and dry his gear out.

We were on the trail by 6:15 AM, but despite the early hour it wasn't long before the sun was up over the ridge warming up the valley. (We had dropped back down to 3500 feet and the temperatures were much warmer, but then, we are also near the Mojave Desert.) We spent much of the morning traversing along the hillside of Summit Valley, undulating in and out of the countless gullies and ravines along the way. Finally we came out at Cedar Springs Dam (this one actually holds back water) and climbed up onto the ridge to walk around the north-west banks of Silverwood Lake. At last, we reached Silverwood Lake State Park Recreation Area and pulled into the picnic ground to refill our empty water bottles. As we approached the restrooms, we noticed Andrew and his dog, Dude, sitting at a picnic table. We took the time to relax and chat for a while before we turned our thoughts to moving on in search of a camp.

While sitting with Andrew and Dude, a State Park employee drove by in his vehicle. Rachel asked him, in a round about fashion, about the camping options in the area. He had indicated that there was a Hiker/Biker section to the campground just a little south of us, and that we just went in and set up camp we probably wouldn't be bothered for the fee. He also confirmed that the state park had thee group campsites further up the road (about a mile up the trail), only one of which was being used that night. Again he stated that if we went in there and didn't draw attention to ourselves by lighting a fire, it would be unlikely that any rangers would bother us. When faced with the options of a Hiker/Biker site about a mile off trail, or a group camp a mile further, on trail, we quickly opted for the on-trail option.

The guidebook describes the group sites as "lavish" for a reason: they are. Aside from the showers and washrooms being locked (these are luxuries that we are used to dealing without) the campsite had everything that we needed, and more. We were expecting the group site to be a large open area, big enough to pitch half a dozen tents in, but what we found was that it was plush enough to satisfy a troop of 8-year-old girl scouts on a weekend camping trip. There was a large covered area, which served as the central cooking and gathering place. There were enough picnic tables that we could have placed one article out of our pack on each table and we still would have more tables than we needed. On opposite sides of the covered area were two cooking benches, complete with double grills, a sink with running water, and plenty of "counter" space. In the middle of the gathering place was a huge concrete and stone fire ring, large enough for a dozen people to easily gather around. And all of this was surrounded by a treed area, which gave us privacy (which we needed as we weren't paying guests), but let the afternoon sunlight shine through.

We pitched our tent in a small clearing in the trees, just on the outskirts of the gathering place, and then proceeded to make full use of the sinks for bathing, as well as washing a few pairs of socks (and other particularly stinky articles of clothing). Once we were all clean, we sat down to a great meal, some time with our journal, and then, as the light began to fade, we crawled into the tent to do our nightly ritual of rubbing each other's feet before dozing off to sleep.

At about 10:30 PM that night, our perfect camp spot became not so perfect. We were aroused out of our slumber as three cars quickly converged on the "gathering place" and before we knew what was happening, fifteen teenagers had piled out, were running all around, and were declaring that the spot was just what we had thought, "perfect, dude". We sat in our tent, looking through the black mesh walls, in utter disbelief at what was happening around us. Within minutes the teens had a fire going in the fire pit and then began to spread out to look for more firewood. It was at this point that we came to the conclusion that these kids were planning on making a night of it, and we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to pack up and move out. As we unzipped the tent, a couple of the teens became aware of our presence and they came over to find out who we were and what we were doing. We explained that we were backpackers and that we had just been looking for a quiet place to sleep. After that, we thought for a few minutes that the group would move on and leave us in peace, but unfortunately group inertia was in effect and it didn't happen. Hence, at 10:30 PM we found ourselves packing up our gear in the dark and moving on, looking for a quiet (and flat place to sleep). We thought about venturing up the trail with the use of our headlamps, but the guidebook description of the trail indicated that we would be beginning a 2.5 mile ascent and we figured that it would be unlikely that we would find a flat resting place, so we finally decided to take our chances with the last, unoccupied group camp. We made our way back down the road and at about 11:30 PM we found ourselves a secluded spot, where we pitched the tent, got out our sleeping bags, and bunkered down for a second time that night

Not much more than five hours later, Scott was nudging Rachel awake. It was 4:50 AM and Scott was eager to get a few miles under us before the sun would raise the temperature on the long uphill climb. Despite knowing that it was a smart thing to do, Rachel was none too please at the hour. It had been getting earlier and earlier each of the last three mornings, and this particular morning it happened to come after a disturbed sleep. After much prodding from Scott, and an equal (if not more) amount of groaning from Rachel, we were up by 5 AM and onto the trail by 5:35 AM.

Our warm-up that morning was a 2.2-mile climb up Cleghorn Ridge. While the temperatures were still cool, we were not early enough to beat the sun to the ridge and we were sweaty and hot before we were half way up. Once on the ridge, we were treated to beautiful panoramas below us, into Little Horsethief Canyon, and back to the southeast, behind us, into Silverwood Lake Reservoir and beyond. We descended down into Little Horsethief Canyon for breakfast before climbing back out the other side and heading towards Cajon Pass and Interstate 15, through Cajon Canyon.

We had been informed that there was a McDonalds restaurant not more than half a mile up from the trailhead at I-15, and while we don't normally gravitate towards McDonalds, under the circumstances, the draw was too strong and we set our sights on lunch at "Micky-D's". The taste of a McChicken and a chocolate milkshake is what got Rachel down the "tortuous" descent into Cajon Canyon from the ridgeline. With knees groaning with every step, she persevered in the name of a milkshake.

We arrived at McDonalds just before noon, with our appetites good and ready. We each ordered a Crispy Chicken meal (super-sized), a large chocolate shake, and then a Big n' Tasty burger to top it all off. We sat there for about an hour and a half, enjoying the air conditioning and the full feeling in our bellies, before loading up with water and heading out to begin Section D (I-15 to Agua Dulce) of the trail.

We passed underneath the I-15 through a long culvert. We are pleased to report that the I-15 was unlike the I-10 in that there was no garbage, and minimal graffiti to endure. What we did encounter, however, was a swampland on the other side of the highway. We gingerly made our way through the overgrown brush and marsh, back onto solid trail and then began our hot climb back up into the hills. We began our climb with about seven liters of water each, as we had about 22 hot, desert miles to cover, with an elevation gain of 5225 feet. As the afternoon wore on, we were beginning to get fatigued and our feet were already aching badly. We set our sights on a possible camp six miles into the section, but when we got there we were disappointed to find no suitable camp. We had three options available to us: make do; go back a half mile into an open sandy wash area; or, hike on and hope for something to come along. We opted for the latter of the three, and it ended up taking us up (and up and up) Upper Lytle Creek Ridge for about 3.5 miles before we found anything wide enough to put a tent, let alone wide and flat. At last we came upon a spur trail that lead to a ridge top road and we figured that we might find something suitable up there. As we walked along the ridge we looked over the other side onto a leveling where we saw to other hikers had set up camp (Mick and Brian, locals who were out for a weekend pack trip). We scrambled down the embankment and pushed our way through the thick chaparral and other desert brush until we reached them and then found a suitable spot a few yards away, behind some brush.

We quickly set up camp and went about fixing ourselves dinner in the waning light. While Scott was cooking, Rachel tallied up the days mileage. We knew from how we were feeling that we had done a big day, but we were somewhat surprised to find we had done 22.5 trail miles, a full 3.5 miles more than anything else we had done so far. (It helped to explain why we were so pooped!) After dinner we settled in for a good night sleep, after our long day and restless night the night before.

Ten-thirty must be the witching hour around here, because for a second night in a row, we were roused out of our slumbers at 10:30 PM. On this night, we woke up to a peculiar noise that we have still not been able to identify. It was either gunshots or fire works being set off on the road just above where we were camped. We heard a loud bang, followed by a whizzing sound above our heads (which we imagined was only a few feet above the tent). The two guys camped by us yelled out, "Hey, there are people camping down here!" to no avail, as the bang and whizzing continued. We sat up and peered out of our vestibules, to see if we could see what was going on, but a fog had settled in around us, so that all we could see was the light of headlights up on the road, and then the darkening as people walked in front of them. We heard voices and music, but could not determine what was being fired off in our general direction. As we lay there, we half expected the whizzing objects to hit, or penetrate, our tent, and we marveled at our incredible turn of bad luck to be bothered two nights in a row. Alas, we are nearing the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and crazy things are bound to happen... Fortunately for us, whoever it was up there on that road moved on within fifteen minutes or so, and we were finally able to settle back into a slumber for a few more precious hours sleep.

Five thirty came early the next morning. We started into our usual morning routine, but this morning Rachel was able to convince Scott into a few more minutes of shut-eye. It was closer to 6 AM before we got up and got moving, but as the morning wind was quickly picking up, we were quick to pack up camp and get moving to warm up. We got back on the trail and kept on climbing. We had another three thousand feet to climb before we would finish, so it was best to get moving before the day warmed up too much.

The miles passed slowly as we made our way up Blue Ridge. While the temperatures remained cool, with the aid of the wind, the climb was long and constant. Our feet were already aching after our long hike the day before, but we kept on going as we had a destination in mind. In eleven miles we would make it to Acorn Canyon Trail and the two mile side trail that would take us down into Wrightwood, but we were going to push on another mile past that to Guffy Campground, and the next available on-trail water. As we were not going to be able to pick up our re-supply parcel in Wrightwood until Monday morning, we were in no hurry to push on, so we figured that we would camp at Guffy and then on Sunday morning, we would hike the remaining 5 miles to Hwy 2, leading into Wrightwood, where we could hitch a ride into town.

At last we made it to Guffy Campground, just after noon, and we were dismayed to find that it was a vehicle accessible campground, and there were plenty of vehicles there. We had heard from a weekend hiker, earlier on the trail, that some kids had been in the campground the night before and had partied until about 4 AM,, so after sitting and resting for a while, we decided to hike the last five miles to the Highway.

The last two miles of the hike to the highway were really tough. We had climbed up to the summit of the local ski resort "Mountain High", and now we had to navigate down the rocky and steep ski runs. We were tired and aching by the time the highway finally came into view, but it didn't take us long to realize that there wasn't a lot of traffic on the highway. We began to have premonitions of us standing on the side of the road unable to get a ride as dusk settles in around us, but as we dropped the last few feet down to the turnaround on the side of the highway, we notice a pick-up truck sitting there, and the occupants eager to talk to us. We chatted for a few minutes and answered a couple of questions about the trail before we asked if they were heading down into Wrightwood. As it happened, they were going in the opposite direction, but regardless, they were happy to turn around and drive us the 6 miles into town, even though it meant that one of the occupants had to get out and wait at the pull out for his ride to come back up the hill. (Thanks for the ride Dan. We hope that we see you out on the trail in the Sierras.)

Dan dropped us off in town and we wandered over to the hardware store where we had been told that we might be able to arrange camping accommodations. We walked into the store and as we were putting our packs down two customers said "Hey look, hikers". We asked if they were thru-hiking and were informed that they weren't, but that they had aspirations of doing the hike this year until other things came up. We asked them if they knew of anywhere around town that we might be able to pitch our tent, and they replied that we were more than welcome to come back to their place with them and enjoy a hot shower and a comfortable bed. Wow, what a turn in our luck after two consecutive nights of hassles, and now everything we needed was falling into our laps: first a ride, then a place to stay.

Our hosts name's are Katie Fisher and Randy Smith, and they live in Wrightwood on the weekends, at Katie's parent's cabin.. They did the Appalachian Trail three years ago, as their honeymoon trip, and it is their dream to open up a Hiker Hostel in northern California sometime soon. They took us back to their cozy cabin, allowed each of us to shower, and then Katie (a practicing massage therapist) gave us each a foot spa to soak our feet in while she gave our feet a rub down with all kinds of natural oils, ointments and remedies. We both felt like we had fallen off the trail straight into heaven. Imagine our luck ... the first people we talked to in town! What Karma!

Last night we slept in a bed for the first time in over a month. We slept soundly, but still woke with the birds and the sun in the morning (and to Rachel's dismay, she was unable to get back to sleep ... the hiking way of life is becoming ingrained). We both called our mothers first thing this morning to wish them a happy Mother's Day, and since then, we have been busy doing laundry, writing the journal, and enjoying the company of our gracious hosts. Katie's parents are coming up from the desert soon and we are going to enjoy a Mother's Day dinner with them, before we spend a second night's sleep in that comfortable bed that is upstairs. Tomorrow, after we bid our Katie and Randy farewell, we will be back onto the trail to climb over Mt. Baden-Powell, at 9399 feet, on our way to Agua Dulce, the next re-supply town along the trail.

Katie and Randy - Thanks for your awesome hospitality! If you are ever in the Vancouver area, we expect to be able to return the favor. You guys rock!