Day 37: Into the heat

11.2 miles (454.4 to 465.6)

For some reason we think it’s a good idea to leave Hiker Heaven on the 1pm shuttle. So we do, and now we have to start hiking. And it’s hot out here. Really hot. That frigid day on Mount Gleason seems like a distant hallucination. What were we thinking? We should have left this evening and hiked until after dark. The forecast is frightening: higher temperatures each day until we’re in the 100s. At least we’re finally heading north again after the PCT’s long western tangent. 

Today I’m wearing my new Altra Lone Peaks. I wasn’t sure if I’d need the same size, so ordered two pairs and kept the pair that’s 1/2 size larger than the shoes I wore for the last 450 miles. The old shoes look squashed and flat next to these bright beauties. I didn’t realize how broken down they were. I’m carrying them on my pack, though, because every time I get new shoes something goes wrong, and I can’t afford to ruin my feet. I’ll carry them until I’m sure the new shoes are ok. 

Old shoe, new shoe.

After four miles of hot afternoon hiking, including two miles along paved roads, we stop for a rest in a sliver of shade cast by a tall shrub. I don’t know how I’m going to survive the next few hundred miles of desert heat. Even resting in the shade, I’m sweating. And it’s not even 100 degrees yet. 

Eventually we have to start hiking again. When we do, the temperature seems to have dropped a little, possibly thanks to the breeze that’s started up. This is the ideal breeze: strong enough for evaporative cooling, but not strong to force me to take down my umbrella. I power through the climb to the top of a ridge. Once we get over the ridge, it’s a quick walk down to Bear Spring.

Looking back the way we’ve come.

Three hikers are already here. We join them and chat and eat our dinner and fill up on water for the next 15 miles. Then it’s onward. Due to our late start, we’re only going to hike for a few more miles. Down the hill we go, and stop just after sunset at Bouquet Canyon Road. The camping area is directly below the paved road, and there’s a lot of traffic. If Dad’s foot was feeling better, I’d press on to the next site down the trail. But is acting up, so we put up our tents and agree to a 5am departure tomorrow. We need to do at least 20 miles, and I’d like to avoid hiking in the hottest part of the day if possible.

In my tent, I use a rag to clean my feet. The area between two of my toes itches when I rub there. Something’s wrong. I turn on my headlamp. The skin between my toes has split, the same problem that’s been plaguing Dad’s feet. When did this happen?! Why am I only feeling it now? I squeeze some antibiotics ointment on it and cover it with a bandage as well as I can. Maybe it won’t get any worse. 

Day 36: Hiking to Hiker Heaven

18.3 miles (436.1 to 454.4)

We wake to a clear dawn. As we leave the ranger station, we leave what will probably be the last patch of forest for a few hundred miles. Two ravens circle us, cawing repeatedly. This goes on for maybe a minute and feels rather surreal. 

Slowly descending toward the KOA.

We break for snacks. Back on the trail, I hear, then see, a Phainopepla – the first of the trip (if I remember correctly). We continue downhill and finally cross into what I assume is the Sand Fire burn area. Down a little farther, we reach the turnoff to the KOA. Dad has one serving of oatmeal left in his food bag; he hopes to find something for lunch at the KOA store, but the store is disappointing: high prices and low selection. We exit empty-handed and sit at a picnic table in the shade. 

I eat my usual lunch of beans and crushed chips. Dad eats a bar. As we stand up to leave, Dad spots Beezer’s distinctive shorts across the lawn. Beezer and Noodle have arrived! They join us at the picnic table. A group of campers in a nearby site is packing up to leave. They have a lot of uneaten food, which they proceed to bring over to us, one armful at a time. Dad scores salad mix, ranch dressing, three hotdogs, and jam on a bun. Noodle, who desperately wanted a Snickers bar, receives a bag of mini-Snickers. He and Beezer also accept a hotdogs. I take a few spoonfuls of peanut butter. Trail magic has found us. 

Trail magic hot dog.

After lunch we face a sustained, shadeless climb. Today I’m slow on the uphill, frustrating after my strong uphill performance yesterday. My sweat soaked, dust encrusted pants stick to my legs, hindering every step. At the top of the hill, we’re surprised by a view of Highway 14. Lovely. The next stretch of trail drops us down to a memorable crossing under the freeway. 

Next up: Vasquez Rocks. The rock formations are spectacular. We hike through the park, following PCT signs as best we can, and emerge on the outskirts of Agua Dulce. Now only a road walk separates us from Hiker Heaven and our next shower. The grocery store comes into view. As we enter the parking lot, a pickup pulls up next to us. The driver asks if we’re heading for Hiker Heaven. As luck would have it, she’s driving the shuttle that runs between Hiker Heaven and town. 

Among Vasquez Rocks.

The Saufleys who run Hiker Heaven generously provide PCT hikers with a place to spend the night, send resupply packages, take a shower, do laundry, and use the internet. My first order of business is to set up my tent so I can get everything out of my pack and find the things that needs washing. Then I’ll take a shower and change into clean loaner clothes. As I check out the few available flat and semi-flat tent spots, I turn around and find myself in a standoff with a rooster. This little guy won’t let me pass. I back up, he charges forward. I go sideways, he stays with me. I hope someone’s getting a video of this. (Unfortunately, no one is.) 

Eventually I break free. I set up my tent out of the rooster’s zone, take a shower, and submit my clothes for cleaning. Mom stuffed a few extra goodies into my resupply box. Thank you! I get busy eating. Beezer, Noodle, Dad, and another hiker named Martin plan to go out for dinner in town. I don’t want to spend money on a meal when I have more than enough food, so I eat bean and rice noodles with olive oil, plus a whole box of paleo cookies, plus a whole chocolate bar. I then tag along when the guys go out to dinner; I end up eating some of Dad’s fries. 

Back at Hiker Heaven, it’s already getting dark. I dive into my tent and try to organize my things. There are a lot of people here tonight and they’re surprisingly noisy, even at 9:30pm (long past my bedtime, but I’m still awake trying to finish my daily writing). Neighbor dogs bark and bark. Hiker Heaven is an awesome place, but I don’t know how well I’m going to sleep. I hope everyone quiets down soon. 

Tent village at Hiker Heaven.

*More photos on Instagram

Day 35: Cold and wet

17.5 miles (418.6 to 436.1)

I sleep surprisingly well in the picnic area under the wires by the highway. I wake in a cloud. That’s interesting and weird. I’m glad I opted to zip the doors of my tent’s fly. Inside, everything is dry. Outside, my tent is soaked. 

A cold, wet morning.

We expect to hike out of the fog on our morning climb, but the fog sticks to the mountain. We expect it to burn off, but it doesn’t. It’s a cold, wet morning. For the first time in weeks, I hike in layers. Around mile 421 we see the first deer of the trip: a doe, who immediately books it up the slope. A little later, there are large bird tracks on the trail. The tracks follow the trail for awhile. Raven? 

A bird was here.

Father-son team Beezer and Noodle catches us when we stop to take advantage of the cell reception to contact loved ones. Not long after, we catch them taking a snack break beside the trail. We sit and join them. I get started updating my blog and am the last to leave. Despite stopping to strap on my solar panel during a sunny interlude, I end up passing everyone during the climb and cruise on up to the shoulder of Mount Gleason, where we all intend to break for lunch. I plop down on a nice log in a place where the top of the ridge serves as a wind break. I set out my tent’s fly to dry, get out my lunch, and wait for the others to arrive. (Lately I’ve been super strong on climbs but laughably slow on descents – what’s up with that???)

Beezer and Noodle show up and sit down. Dad catches up and takes off his pack. Pieces of cloud race by, down the slope. For the next hour, we’re in and out of cloud and sun. Cold, hot, cold, hot. Then cold, really cold, and the sun doesn’t come back. We pack up our things and resume the hike with approximately six mostly downhill miles to North Fork Ranger Station, where we’ll spend the night. One by one we set off. There’s one switchback before the top of the ridge, after which we expect to be slapped by cold wind. 

On the other side of the ridge, there’s no view. We’re inside a cloud. It’s cold and windy. I try to capture the scene by taking a video of Dad as he struggles through the mist. 

The rest of the afternoon is a struggle. I freeze. I get too hot. I shed my rain jacket, then my capilene hoody, then I put the jacket back on. The wind is exhausting. The clouds remain low enough to block the view. Is this normal for the San Gabriels in mid-June? I always expect wind, but the low cold clouds are a shock. I still have reception, so I check the forecast for Agua Dulce (a few thousand feet below us). Highs in the 60s today, rising to 100 by Friday. From one extreme to the other!

Finally below the clouds, not of inside of them!

I am ridiculously slow on the downhill today. I dodge poodle dog and poison oak and manage not to trip over rocks when the trail gets rough, while all my body really wants to do is take a nap. The wind did me in. 

On my way down the mountain.

At last the ranger station comes into view. Not longer afterward, we arrive. The wind is whipping. I pitch my tent and later move it to a slightly more sheltered spot. Dad and I eat dinner at a picnic table with Beezer and Noodle. Oscar, another section hiker, joins us. That cold wind is still blowing, growing more and more frigid. We all retreat to our tents. Then, it starts to drizzle. Rain? In the desert in June? It doesn’t last, but it’s enough to dampen my tent fly. Crazy day. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 34: PCT traffic jam

19.1 miles (399.5 to 418.6)

We manage to pull off a 6:30am departure. A few minutes later, we come upon a spring that’s not listed on any of the apps. Flow is good. Water is cold. Taste is great. We fill up here rather than at the water tank that’s coming up in one mile. Moments after leaving the spring, we arrive at PCT Mile 400 and pause to document the moment. Squirrel and deer tracks run along the trail. Deer tracks on the trail have been so rare that I only remember seeing them once before. Where I live in northern California, they’re a common sight. 

Twice more the trail crosses Highway 2. The second time, we come out at a picnic area. There’s a hiker here called Duck. We stop and chat for a bit before moving on. We’re in a burn now and soon get our first good luck at the infamous Poodle Dog Bush. After all of the hype (worse than poison oak!), it doesn’t look so ominous. In any case, there isn’t much of it, certainly not enough to justify the near hysterical warnings. Most of the plants are dead or easily avoidable. The trail meanders back into an unburned area; we walk through pines and shrubs of various species, including flannel bush with its cheerful yellow flowers. 

Near mile 408, I send Dad ahead because I have to pee. When I return to the trail, I find myself in a traffic jam…with a rattlesnake. The snake clearly has the right-of-way, so I stand back while it inches across the trail. After it’s found a place under a shrub, I proceed. This isn’t the most riveting video, but it’s cool to watch a rattlesnake in motion:

We climb into another burned area (more poodle dog!) and pass two groups of day hikers. We climb to Fountainhead Spring and stop for lunch 11 miles into our day. I briefly have reception, but not enough to upload my next blog entries. Sorry, readers. It’s going to be longer than usual between posts. 

Hiking toward lunch.

After lunch we climb through the burn to the top of a ridge, then drop over the other side and hike across a ceanothus-covered slope. I stop several times to photograph the scene. 

Awesome views from this burned area.

Wind picks up, strong enough to plaster our pants to our legs. Clouds move in. The trail drops and drops and eventually lets us off at the Mill Creek Fire Station. Here, we collect water from a feisty spigot. Signs say “No camping at the station,” so we walk a short distance down the hill to the Mill Creek Picnic Area, where apparently camping is allowed (at least for PCT hikers – no one else would even imagine camping here). Angeles Forest Highway wraps around the picnic area. High voltage lines crackle overhead. It’s not our best campsite. I hope I’ll be able to fall asleep. 

Beezer and Noodle, a father and son section-hiking from Wrightwood to Agua Dulce, also set up camp at the picnic area. We eat dinner together on one of the picnic tables. Too bad they’re stopping in a few days; they seem like they’d be fun to travel with. After sunset, more hikers arrive. By then, I’m already horizontal in my tent. 

We hiked just over 19 miles today, but it doesn’t feel like 19 miles. It must have been an easy 19. My body feels OK. My feet got a little achy toward the end of the day, but that could have been due to the long downhill section. The stretches and massage I learned seem to be helping. My feet weren’t tender when I got up this morning – for the first time in weeks! 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 33: Endangered Species Detour 

16.7 miles (383.9 to 390.2 and 394.0 to 399.5 on PCT, plus 4.9 mile detour)

In the morning, we’re not the first hikers out of camp, but we’re far from the last. At Islip Saddle, there’s a gate across Highway 2. Wow, the road is still closed. We cross the highway and promptly gain a lot of elevation climbing onto one of Mount Williamson’s shoulders. 

A Steller’s Jay fledgling flies/wobbles across the trail just in front of me. A parent jay swoops in and scolds me until I’m far enough away to no longer pose a threat. Half a switchback later, a Brown Creeper flies into a large pine beside the trail. Brown Creeper is one of my all-time favorite birds. I watch it bee bop up the tree. Adorable!

Another beautiful view.

Eventually the trail brings us back to the highway. We cross, then climb, then drop back down to the highway yet again. This time we’ll be here for awhile. The PCT is closed from mile 390.2 to 394.0 to protect the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog. There are two alternatives for the so-called Endangered Species Detour: one is approximately 20 miles of trail, the other is 4.9 miles and includes a 2.7-mile walk along Highway 2. We choose the road walk. Now, ideally, if you’re going for a stroll along a narrow mountain highway, the highway will be closed to traffic. And lucky for us, the highway is still closed! At Eagle’s Roost, Dad speaks with someone from CalTrans. Turns out there are a few sink holes in the road; it’s going to be closed for awhile. The road walk stretch itself isn’t closed, but the fact that the highway is closed a few miles ahead means that we shouldn’t see many cars. We don’t. We see two cars and four motorcycles. 

Walkin’ the yellow line.

The road walk is as pleasant as can be. The miles pass quickly, and soon we’re heading into Buckhorn Campground for lunch. From the campground, we take Buckhart Trail back to the PCT. From there, it’s a hot climb to Copper Canyon Trail Camp, one of our potential destinations for tonight. But it’s only 2pm, and we’ve only covered 12 miles, so we continue on after collecting water and taking the opportunity to soak our feet. Oddly, no other hikers have caught us yet. There are two weekenders here, but that’s it. 

Looking down Copper Canyon.

The trail climbs out of Copper Canyon and crosses and recrosses Highway 2. Along the way, we find two reasonable sites that will fit both of our tents, but ultimately we opt to go a little farther in order to make tomorrow’s hike shorter. At last we find a place that we both deem acceptable. We’ve stopped just short of mile 400. I pitch my tent. A squirrel drops pine cones nearby, startling me every time. A Western Tanager calls repeatedly, and an Acorn Woodpecker pipes up as well. A Dark-eyed Junco sings. Two ravens talk about something exciting. Lots of birds here, as well as light traffic on the highway above camp. 

A hiker passes while we eat dinner, the first we’ve seen since starting the Endangered Species Detour this morning. Often it seems like we’re the only PCTers out here. Where are all the other hikers who camped at Little Jimmy last night? We meet people only to lose them immediately. 

My feet did well today. Other than a few zings and throbs, I was pain-free for the whole 16+ miles. In my tent, I clean myself as well as I can and then I go through my new foot care routine. Between foot care and journaling, I have a lot to do before I can go to bed. Finally, I sleep. 

*More photos on Instagram

Day 32: Baden Powell

14.6 miles (369.3 to 383.9)

I wake shortly after dawn. Before I can get up to pee, I have to stretch and massage my feet; this is my new, self-prescribed protocol to promote healing. When I return to bed, I rewatch the video on taping (twice). Then I tape both feet and put on socks and shoes as recommended to allow the tape to set. 

Our host drives us and four other hikers to the trailhead. Highway 2 is closed just after the trailhead at Inspiration Point due to a rock slide or a sink hole (exact cause unclear). Luckily we’re not trying to hitch to or from Wrightwood today! At 9am, we’re hiking. We only took two zero days in town, but I feel like we were off the trail for at least a week. I’m so happy to be back out here, even if my feet do ache – and they do. Not only that, but with my feet all taped up, I can’t find my natural gait. 

Please let me see one of these guys!

We walk around a ridge and come back down to Highway 2 at Vincent Gap. Then we face our main task for the day: the four mile, 3,000 foot climb to the top of Baden Powell. About halfway up, we stop for cold, delicious water at Lamel Spring. Afterward, I somehow settle into a wonderful efficient stride that allows me to overtake three thru-hikers and a day hiker. (Wow!) I cruise up to the summit and chat with a few of the folks up there. Dad arrives. We eat lunch. We take photos. We hang out for a long time, but that’s ok. We aren’t going far today. We just need to get to Little Jimmy Camp, six miles ahead. 

Jukebox photographs the view from the top.

From the top of Baden Powell, I can see San Gorgonio and San Jacinto peeking up behind Mount Baldy. They’re too distant to show up well in photographs, but they’re there on the horizon, reminding us how far we’ve walked. 

Mount Baldy, with San Gorgonio and San Jacinto peeking through.
At last it’s time to walk some more. The trail takes us along a ridge where we have nice views of the desert far below. There’s a fir here that I’ve never seen before. I’m falling in love with this tree. The needles look like hybrid red fir/white fir, but the bark is cream-colored and multi-layered and looks like a doorway to another world. I stop to photograph several of these beauties. I need to learn the name of this species. 

I love this species, whatever it is.

We follow the ridge around and around until we come to a view filled with Baden Powell and Mount Baldy. We’re in yet another recent burn. Down, down the trail drops, finally taking us to Little Jimmy Spring, another cold, delicious delight. We fill up with water for tonight and for 10 miles tomorrow, then walk a little farther to Little Jimmy Trail Camp. 

Looking at the desert through an old burn.

Camp has picnic tables and off-putting outhouses. Several hikers have already set up their tents, and a group of Girl Scouts has staked their claim on the far side of the campground. I pitch my tent and eat dinner and chat with two female hikers. It’s nice to have a few ladies around. Then we all retreat to our tents and I go about my nightly routine. I’ve slept in my tent only one out of the last six nights. Its a relief to set everything up and settle in for the night.

More hikers arrive, some after dark. The Girl Scouts are noisy. I wash my toes and stretch my feet. The tape looks like it might hold up for another day, so I forgo the massage. My feet did OK today. There were moments of aches and a few moments of pain. I don’t know if the tape helped. It hasn’t made anything worse, so I’ll leave it on and see what happens tomorrow. 

Day 31: Second zero

0 miles

Other hikers have already reserved our little cabin for tonight, so we walk to the hardware store to consult their list of lodgings and find another place to stay. While we’re sitting by the hiker box, another hiker arrives. He takes one look at me and says, “Are you Eowyn?” His name is Smokebeard, and he recognized me from the photos on my blog. I’ve never been recognized before. For a moment, I feel like a minor celebrity. 

I can’t immediately reach any of the trail angels on the hardware store’s list, but Holistic Health Day Spa has two private rooms available. Novel, aka Momma Bear, picks us up and we spend the next few hours lounging on her front porch with our feet soaking in Epsom salts. Not a bad way to spend a zero day. 

The foot bath gets a thumbs up from Jukebox.
In the afternoon, we get a ride back into town and eat late lunch/early dinner at Grizzly Cafe. I thought I was going to order a burger and fries, but I end up getting a chicken-bacon salad with a side of housemade potato chips. Yum. 

Afterward, I purchase a roll of athletic tape at the hardware store. Taping my foot to provide additional support may help relieve the pain. I watched a “how to tape for plantar fasciitis” instructional video on Youtube this morning. I’m going to give it a try. 

Outside, we run into Smokebeard again and hang out in the shade for awhile chatting about trail life. Unfortunately, Smokebeard is having even worse foot trouble than I am. The trail has been hard on everyone. 

Dad and I hitch our way back to our lodgings. I relax in my room. Part of me wants to socialize and meet other hikers downstairs, but another part of me wants to savor this quiet, private space. 

Home for tonight.

We’re going back to the trail tomorrow. I’ve learned a few stretches and massages that may help my feet, and I’ll be trying out the new taping technique. If the pain gets worse, I’ll have to reevaluate my strategy. For now, I’m hopeful that I can manage the situation.