17.3 miles (226.2 to 243.5), with >5,300 feet elevation gained
With no wind to shake my tent, I sleep straight through the night and wake to my alarm at 4:45. Today is my birthday. I lay in bed for a few minutes, then pack my things, and by the time I’m ready to hike out of camp, it’s already 6:10. What? An hour and a half to pack and leave camp? That’s excessive, yet I can’t seem to get out of camp faster unless I skip breakfast, as I did yesterday when we started hiking at 5am. I need to trim my morning routine. I’ll never get to Canada with 90-minute mornings in camp.
We hike north along Mission Creek. With easy access to water for the first half of the day, I only carry a liter and a half. My pack practically floats down the trail by itself.
Then, I fall. My hands hit the ground. The ground skins my knees. A moment passes as I sit there assessing the damage. All seems well. I push to my feet and peer at the trail. There’s a sneaky rock a few feet back, covered in sand. My foot must have slipped on that.
On we go. Not 60 seconds later, Dad falls. He loses his footing on the far side of a stream crossing and goes down. Is this a sympathy fall? After the initial shock, after we know that he’s ok, we both crack up.
Near mile 231, we encounter a man hiking southbound. His name, he tells us, is Goal Tech. He’s section hiking the PCT and has just completed his 1,000th mile. He’s currently south-bounding Section C and offering trail magic to NOBOs (northbound hikers). Trail magic on my birthday. How cool! Dad and I each select a bag of chips from the massive mesh bag dangling off Goal Tech’s backpack. We thank him and continue on.
Not long after, we lose the trail at a boggy creek crossing. We’re still on a trail, but I have a feeling it’s not the trail, and even though there are recent footprints ahead of us (Goal Tech?) the path becomes fainter and fainter until footprints are all that we can follow. Well? I consult Guthook. The PCT is a short distance to the east – straight up a hill. Lo and behold, there’s a little trail of footprints leading straight up the hill. We’re clearly not the only hikers to get off track here. It’s a steep, frustrating climb, made more frustrating when we see a hiker cruising by on the trail up above. He looks down on us and waves and keeps walking. How did he manage to stay on the real trail? I’m so jealous.
Reunited with the PCT, we continue northward up the canyon. I see flannel bush in flower. I see two garter snakes and two chubby horned lizards. We enter the Lake Fire burn area and the slope significantly increases. Until now it’s been a fairly easy trek up the canyon, sidetrack aside. We gained over 3,000 feet in elevation but hardly felt the climb.
Now we slog up the mountain through the burn. Our goal is lunch at our last chance for water from Mission Creek. When we finally arrive, five hikers are already resting in the shade. Rusty is here, as are Lee and Pete, two guys we’ve met over the last two days, and Bill from Australia, who we meet for the first time.
We chat over lunch and learn that we all blundered off the trail at the same boggy place and had to bushwhack back up to the PCT. That hiker I saw cruising by above us? That was Lee, having regained the trail only moments before. He was afraid we’d gone off track following him. Nope, we managed that all on our own. I don’t feel like such an idiot now.
One by one the others depart ahead of us. I carry five liters of water away from the creek for the next 10 miles of trail, plus a dry camp tonight. We hike steeply at first, then the trail mellows and meanders through the burn, in and out of patches of live trees.
In early evening we climb to a sharp elbow in the trail. A view of snow-topped San Gorgonio and distant San Jacinto unfolds. We immediately stop for pictures. Then Dad notices a little campsite on the slope below. We make our way down to it, and it’s really nice. We’d planned to cover a few more miles today, but I doubt we’ll find anything better than this site. We eat dinner and set up our tents.
Strangely, we have reception here. I catch up on birthday texts, post photos to Instagram, and schedule my next blog posts. The sun sets. We’re camped at 8,400 feet (having started the day at 3,100) and the breeze is chilly. I might finally get to zip up my sleeping bag tonight.
*I publish each blog entry on my phone in the WordPress app, which doesn’t give me a good idea of how the final version appears to readers. If photos are too large or too small, or if other changes need to be made, please let me know in the comments section and I will try to make adjustments. Thank you!
*More photos on Instagram.