22.9 miles (305.9 to 328.8), plus 0.5 mile walk to Mesa Campground
I wake to a Great Horned Owl’s hoots. Poorwills are singing again, too. I organize the day’s food and discover that I accidentally ate three dinners worth of noodles in two nights. Oops. Hiker hunger is no joke.
We’re on the trail before the sun rises over our campsite. Dad and I are going to attempt a big day. We’re still in the campsite void and would like to get to the campground at Silverwood Lake this evening, nearly 23 miles away. Coming after two 20 mile days, this may be over ambitious. But we’re going to try. Where else can we sleep tonight?
Within an hour we reach Deep Creek Hot Springs, which all the hikers have been talking about. Camping isn’t allowed here, but that hasn’t stopped a number of people from putting up tents and hammocks. I don’t feel compelled to stop for a soak. Dad doesn’t, either. I want to want to go into the springs, but I don’t have any desire to, maybe because this place isn’t all that appealing. A few dozen feet from the water, previous visitors have planted a toilet paper garden. There’s garbage along the trail and crusty towels in the bushes. I get close enough to touch one of the pools of water. Yep, it’s warm. We move along.
The trail clings to the canyon wall. We come to an arched bridge over the creek and stop for a snack break. When we resume hiking, we see spray painted graffiti on boulders, graffiti covering beautiful rock walls, garbage and toilet paper everywhere.
We pass two young guys hiking in. Later, we pass a group of five boys walking in, blasting music, smoking weed, and carrying six packs of glass bottles. We’re at least two miles from a trailhead. I don’t understand why people walk all the way in here to trash this place. The mess is so disturbing that I actually lose my raging appetite. Instead of enjoying the intrinsic beauty of this place, I feel a looming sense of dread. I can’t get out of here fast enough.
We follow the trail out of the canyon and down to a scuzzy crossing of Deep Creek. I sit in the shade and try to fix a blister on my heel. As I work, I hear Northern Mockingbird, Yellow Warbler, Song Sparrow, Black headed Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole, Lazuli Bunting, Lesser Goldfinch, and…bullfrogs. The birds are a welcome distraction from our disgusting surroundings, until a group of girls goes by blasting music, drowning out the birds. Luckily there’s a wall of riparian vegetation between us and the girls. We can’t see them or the garbage they’re carrying in. I feel like we’re hiding out down here. Maybe we are.
We walk along the creek for a little while, passing another group of day trippers. I want so badly to be away from here that this desire becomes an ache in my body. We cross a road where cars are parked at a trailhead, and afterward the sneaker prints on the trail disappear. I begin to relax, but not completely, for some of the sign posts here have been tagged. We’re not yet out of the graffiti zone.
Then, we enter a burned area. Yes, please! My mood soars upon seeing the black shrub skeletons. No one’s going to walk through this to tag a rock. No one has, and it’s glorious.
We pass a local day hiker coming in the opposite direction who tells us that the snowy peak we’re seeing in the distance is Mount Baldy (not Baden Powell as we’d assumed). She also tells us tomorrow is supposed to be 10 degrees hotter than today. I’m glad we’re hiking through this burn now.
We eat lunch in the shade of boulders and a few surviving trees. A few miles we collect water from Grass Valley Creek. Eventually we pass out of the burn. The trail descends and meets up with Highway 173. We walk along the highway for a bit. It’s a relief to finally hike over the hill and see Silverwood Lake. We made it!
Except, we haven’t. It takes hours to hike around the lake and find the campground. By the time we reach the campground, I’m in pain. Dad is, too. We limp toward the hike/bike sites, then have trouble finding them and end up eating dinner on the closest table. I eat my dinner along with a bar that I’d budgeted for tomorrow. Now I’m in food deficit. I’m so hungry I could eat everything in my food bag tonight.
Showers costs a minimum of $2 in quarters, and there’s no change machine nearby. As darkness falls we sponge ourselves off with our bathing rags.
The hike/bike sites are empty. We haven’t seen another thru-hiker since the hot springs. It feels like we’re the only hikers out here.
I hurt. Given how well my body handled the previous two long days, I didn’t expect this much pain after another long day. I don’t know if all will be well come morning, or if I’ll have to limp out of here.
*More photos on Instagram.