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The Hike Continues

April 29, 2018

We were awake and packing our tent at 6:30 a.m., surrounded by many other hikers engaged in the same activity. Weeks on the trail had conditioned us to rise with the sun, even when camping at a hiker hostel.

Two early morning hours passed quickly at Hiker Heaven. We recharged our phones and talked with other hikers. I introduced one hiker, Special K, to the delights of eating corn chips spread with butter. “Oh, if my friends could see me now!” she exclaimed. “Hiker health food!”

The 8:30 a.m. shuttle carried us to the well stocked Agua Dulce General Store, where we bought breakfast and supplies for the next few days. To make up for my pre-breakfast “health food” snack, our morning town meal was the epitome of healthy; a salad of spinach, goat cheese, boiled eggs, and avocado, with blueberry yogurt for desert.

We sat at tables on the porch of the general store while we ate and organized our food, talking with locals and other hikers. Time flew by as we shared hiker stories until, at 1:00 p.m., the sun, at its zenith, began signaling that it was more than past time for us to get hiking!

Accompanied by a cool mid-day breeze, we set off through 2.5 miles of town, heading for the hills. Two miles later, still surrounded by civilization, I found myself in desperate need of a toilet. Frantically, I scanned the surrounding houses and buildings. I knew I wasn’t going to last another half mile to the relative privacy of trailside bushes. Fortunately, the Shepherd of the Hills Church had open doors and friendly people who gladly let us use their restrooms. I am forever grateful to these cordial and gracious people, and their open door policy!

Once out of town, we enjoyed views of clouds, hills, and bushes while the trail gained altitude.

A hiker named King Kong, from South Korea, took our picture at a bend in the trail.

The trail gained the ridge top, but kept on climbing. The cool wind, so welcome in Agua Dulce, became a bit insistent, prompting me to wear warm hat and coat.

20180429_180930_resized939256857.jpg
On top of the ridge, but still climbing.

After climbing 2,300 feet, we finally dropped over the ridge edge, meeting a few welcoming groves of live oak trees. Many old cow patties attested to the shelter provided by these trees. The view was spectacular, miles of bushes and oaks, with not another tent in sight. Gratefully, we pitched our own tent and turned in for the night, a nearby screech owl sending us to sleep with an unusual lullaby.

April 30, 2018

Gray sky put a definite tinge of humidity in the cold, early morning breeze. The trail wound around the sides of hills, occasionally crossing a ridge top, sometimes diving through an oak grove. Poodle dog bush and poison oak abounded, slowing our progress often as we stepped carefully to avoid these plants.

6:00 p.m. brought us near San Francisquito Canyon Road. Beyond it, the trail headed uphill again, with no feasible campsites for several miles. A hiker hostel named Casa de la Luna offered shelter and companionship just a couple of miles down the road. But after 15 miles, all I truly wanted was a flat spot out of the wind. Hiker Heaven and Agua Dulce had given us plenty of companionship, and we were still enjoying our solitude. We found a flat bit of dry creek bed at the bottom of a very short sandy draw and quickly put up the tent, appreciative of the shelter from ever present gusts of chilled air.

Groves of live oaks occasionally appeared over the edge of a ridge today.

 

Agua Dulce and Vasquez Rocks

April 28, 2018

Happy birdsong woke us at daybreak, and we were on the trail by 6:30 a.m., hiking out of Mattox Creek Canyon in the cool of the morning. We passed a great deal of poodle dog bush in bloom. This plant, endemic to southern California, flourishes for a few years after a forest fire. Pretty as it is, we were careful to avoid touching it, as it can cause a serious rash.

Poodle dog bush. Pretty, but dangerous!

We consumed the last of our food at breakfast, eaten in early sunshine at the top of the canyon. Two tablespoons of peanut butter and a handful of mixed raisins, nuts, and pumpkin seeds would have to last us three and a half miles until we reached a KOA at Soledad Canyon Road.

The trail circled up and over and around dry ridges until suddenly diving over the edge to descend into Soledad Canyon. At the KOA, we bought more breakfast, and lunch to go, while we watched a crowd of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts assemble for morning instructions, then mingle. About a dozen more thru-hikers arrived as we ate our second breakfast, until the porch of the store was crowded with packs.

Nine miles later, we hiked into Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park. This 932 acre park has a rare beauty. The rocks are mostly made of coarse-grained conglomerate and breccia sediments. Their fantastical shapes were formed by active fault uplift combined with rapid erosion of the San Gabriel Mountains. Many films have been set here, including several episodes of Star Trek.

Jay and I enjoyed our walk through this whimsical land. A few pictures might show it better than my words.

The PCT enters Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park.

Jay stands beside a wall of layered stone.

Lunch break in an eroded alcove
Indian paintbrush accents the desert.
Cliff and tree bring grace and beauty together.
Tilted rocks provide a background for a yucca in bloom.

A mile and a half after leaving this fanciful landscape, Jay and I walked into the small town of Agua Dulce. This town has a wonderful grocery store, but is too small to support a hotel.

For the last 20+ years, lodging for hikers has been provided by the Saufley family, on their land, nicknamed Hiker Heaven. There is a suggested donation of $20 per person and a limit of two nights. This money doesn’t begin to cover the ‘luxuries’ provided for hikers!

The Saufleys are incredibly organized, with showers, shelves of loaner clothes, several rented porta potties, chairs for relaxing, a kitchen open to hiker use, and a spacious yard for tenting.

Jay and I set up our tent, took showers, then caught the shuttle back to town to get dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, Casa Bonita. What a treat, to be clean, eat delicious food, then toddle back to our tent for the night!

The moon shone over twenty-six tents that night.

Packs are hung neatly at the organized Hiker Heaven.
The moon glows above many tents!

They’re fast, and they’re deadly!

April 26, 2018

In late afternoon, as I was descending a dry, exposed section of trail, I was startled by a rattling sound, behind me, approaching fast. Adrenaline flooded my body as I jumped to one side, just in time for a bicycle to whiz past, inches from my pack! Terrified and outraged, I managed to yell to the back of the receding cyclist, ” You don’t belong here!”

The PCT is closed to all wheeled vehicles. There are some parts of the trail where a bicycle could cause serious danger to hikers. Closing the trail to mountain bikes helps to protect fragile trail tread as well as provide a unique, safe place for hikers and equestrians.

As I continued hiking, and my heart rate slowly returned to normal, I fantasized of things I could have done. My fantasies ranged from throwing rocks at the bicycle wheels (perhaps a bit violent) to haranguing the hapless cyclist in my best teacher voice (definitely less violent).

Later, when I caught up with Jay, we discussed possible actions that would be safe for us as well as good for the cyclists.

The PCTA and the US Forest Service make the rules of trail use pretty clear!

April 28, 2018

Two days later, we heard another bicycle coming down the trail. Since we were together, and not quite as startled as last time, Jay and I spread out, effectively blocking the narrow path. The cyclist slowed to a stop, probably puzzling over the sight of two grubby hikers grinning at him as if he were a much anticipated Christmas present. We’d had a lot of time to think of what we should say to cyclists on the PCT. But now that we had our chance, how to start?

I took the conversational plunge. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you, enjoying the trail,” the young man replied.

“But you’re on wheels.” My hands made circling motions.

“And you’re on foot.” The cyclist didn’t get my point.

“And you’re illegal,” Jay joined the conversation.

A look of impatience crossed the young man’s face. “Oh, we’re all illegal sometime. Look at the cars on the freeway going 80 mph. I’m sure you’ve been out there breaking the speed limit.”

“Actually, no, I don’t speed. I stick to 55 mph,” Jay grinned.

“Oh, you’re THAT one,” the cyclist began.

I interrupted him, “Yes, and it saves lots of gas that way.”

The young man turned and grinned at me, diverted from his rant. “That’s true! Especially if you drive a Prius! Do you have a Prius? What do you drive?”

I shook my head, and Jay spoke. “We don’t have a car at the moment.”

This was beyond the cyclist’s comprehension. “What do you mean? How did you get here?”

“We walked,” Jay grinned.

“You walked.” The cyclist sounded impatient again. “Where did you walk from?”

Oh, how we love that question! Jay’s grinned broadened as he gave our favorite one word answer. “Mexico.”

“What?!!” The cyclist turned towards me. I nodded vigorously. “Well, I am impressed,” he conceded.

Jay, pressing our advantage, explained more. “This is the Pacific Crest Trail, 2,640 miles from Mexico to Canada. It was planned and built for hikers and equestrians. You see, there are so few trails reserved just for walkers. People come from all over the world to walk the PCT. It’s kind of like a sanctuary to us. When we see a bicycle tearing down the trail, it ruins the experience.”

The cyclist slowly edged his bicycle around us. “Well, I just moved here. I’ve never heard of the Pacific Rim Trail. But now I know.”

“There’s lots of dirt roads in this area,” I contributed helpfully. “You can ride for miles on them.”

“Well, thanks. Good luck on your hike.” The cyclist prepared to push off.

“Take care,” we replied, parting amicably. Maybe we had helped one cyclist think a bit.

April 30, 2018

Today much of the trail wound around the hillsides, taking sharp corners and carrying us across steep, slippery slopes.

At one point, the terrain flattened, and the trail meandered between groves of live oak trees accented with green grass and small bushes.

Jay and I were enjoying the change of pace, when suddenly we saw two bicycles headed towards us on the path. We spread out, hoping to slow the cyclists and talk with them.

I was ahead of Jay, so I held out my hands in the classic ‘stop’ signal. The cyclists did slow down, and the second man actually got off his bike. The first man just steered slowly around me, since the trail wasn’t steep at that point.

“Do you know where you are?” I asked the first man, turning as he passed me.

“Yeah, we’re on the PCT,” the man replied.

“Bicycles are not allowed here,” I exclaimed indignantly. I turned to the second man as he approached. “There are places on this trail where it is very dangerous for bicycles to meet hikers,” I tried to explain.

“I’m just following my friend,” the man said apologetically as he walked his bike around me and mounted again. “He says we only have another mile before hooking up with a road again.”

Just then I heard the first cyclist telling Jay, “Hey, I’ve done a lot of trail maintenance out here.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Jay replied, but it was a futile effort, the man was already past, heading down the trail.

Jay and I felt frustrated from this encounter. The first man knew he was breaking the rules and did it anyway! I wanted to tell him, “So you’re being a jerk by not having the courtesy of listening to us, AND you’re being an idiot by cycling here when you know the rules!” But I suppose calling him names wouldn’t have helped anything. Regarding the second man, Jay later thought of an appropriate quote from the TV show, Lonesome Dove. “You ride with him, you hang with him!”

We’ll keep trying to be cordial and informative. We don’t want to be judgemental, we want to help others see the hiker point of view.

Much of the PCT is not conducive or safe for sharing with wheeled vehicles!

P.S. If you are a mountain biker, know that I think there is a place and time for that exciting sport. But if you are a mountain biker who feels that you have a right to be on the PCT, well, you do … just leave your bike at home!

Westward with the Silver Moccasin

April 24, 2018

The PCT has taken a westward turn, and joined the Silver Moccasin Trail at Vincent Gap on Hwy 2. Named in 1942 by the Boy Scouts of America, this trail was created and used first by Native Americans, then settlers. This section of the PCT, in 1968, became a new designation of an old trail.

Mt Baden-Powell was our first event of the day. Named for Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, the trail took us to 9,399 feet in elevation, using gently sloping switchbacks.

Near the top, a delightful sight greeted us. A 1,500 year old limber pine, named for another Boy Scout, Wally Waldron, stood on the edge of the final ridge leading to the peak of the mountain.

Roots exposed, this ancient tree inspires awe!

On the top, we met Kristof, a PCT hiker from Germany.

“Isn’t this incredible?” I asked. “Sunshine, no wind, a view for miles. What do you think of this mountain?”

“Yes, it’s nice,” Kristof’s face was reserved. “But it is too…” his hands waved as he groped for the correct word. “Not clear.”

“Hazy,” I suggested.

“Smoggy,” Jay supplied.

We looked again at the view. Los Angeles was somewhere out there. But we had no expectations of seeing the city. We were just glad to be above the smog, happy in the crystal air.

On top of Mt Baden-Powell with incredibly beautiful weather!

The Boy Scouts placed a monument on top of the mountain with a quote from Lord Baden-Powell. Upon reading the words, I thought, ‘If only all children could learn in this way! And what a cool description of the inner workings and learnings of a thru-hiker!’

The Scout training is effected by encouraging the boy through his own enthusiasm to develop himself as an efficient citizen, to create his own character and his individual self-discipline from within. This is education.

-Robert Baden-Powell, July 4, 1916

The trail continued up and down along ridges for many miles. Near dinner time, we came to Little Jimmy Spring, a welcome source of clear, cold water.

Little Jimmy Spring

Soon after the spring, Jay stopped and pointed to several white-headed woodpeckers checking tree trunks for their own dinner!

Our last mountain of the day, Mt Williamson, set over-worked muscles to protesting. As we climbed, we were enchanted to see manzanita bushes, heavy with flowers, lining the path. Each set of bushes hosted a pair of hummingbirds, busy flitting in and out between branches and blossoms.

As evening tiptoed towards night, we found a flat spot on a small ridge edge halfway down Mt Williamson. A beautiful end to a very long and eventful day.

Home for the night!

P.S. Many people have commented on my shoes while hiking. However, when a hummingbird buzzed my feet today, I had to admit – perhaps these shoes are a bit bright!

April 25, 2018

We hiked through several elevations today, too high and dry for many flowers, but saw different pine trees, each kind in its own elevation niche.

bigcone Douglas-fir
Jeffrey pine
Coulter pine
Pinyon pine
Sugar pine

April 26, 2018

Today was notable for three large black and yellow butterflies (perhaps a type of swallowtail), a spotted towhee, a lizard willing to pose for the camera, and many beautiful wildflowers.

April 27, 2018

We chose to eat breakfast at a clearing on a hillside. While there, a hummingbird with an electric green back hovered in front of us, switching its tail back and forth, wings a blur of motion. We watched, enchanted, as it hovered for a few seconds, then darted away.

At lunch time, we stopped in the shade of an enormous live oak tree. A raven sat above us, making rhythmic sounds, not croaks or caws, just noises. Jay said it sounded like temple blocks. I felt we were being entertained with a percussion concert!

Sometime today I realized that the PCT was no longer sharing space with the Silver Moccasin Trail. In fact, the two trails had diverged at Three Points, several miles ago. I did enjoy feeling as if we were sharing Scouting history while the trails had been joined.

This evening we camped in Mattox Creek Canyon, on a flat sandbar. No water in the creek, but many birds and trees made this a lovely campsite. A couple from Germany, Thomas and Katrin, chose a nearby sandbar for their tent.

Two ravens had a great deal to say as we put up our tent and ate dinner. I’m sure they were commenting on the possibilities of stealing food from that group of two-leggers! As the evening progressed (and no food for birds materialized), the two ravens flew high above us, playing with the winds coming off the canyon rim. As I brushed my teeth, I watched shadows creep up the canyon wall while birds called good night.

Only 28 Miles…

April 21, 2018

I staggered away from Cajon Pass with nine pounds of liquid in my backpack – four liters of water and a pint of sweet tea! According to the map, the next reliable water was 28 miles away, at Grassy Hollow Visitors Center, just past the turn off for the town of Wrightwood, CA.

Usually, a liter of water will last me five to six miles. But today, the sun beat upon our heads as the trail followed ridge after ridge without a smidgen of shade. I drank two liters in the first five miles.

Fortunately, at Swarthout Canyon, trail angels kept a water cache filled with gallon jugs of water. Jay and I gratefully filled our empty liters, then sat in the shade of a California sycamore tree for an hour as the heat of the day passed. We talked with another PCT hiker named Papa Bear. The three of us were amazed to learn that our homes in Nevada are only ten miles apart!

One thousand feet higher and several miles later we set up camp on the shoulder of a mountain. The sun glowed orange fire, spreading its glory across the evening sky. I knew I was blessed to be out here at such a time.

April 22, 2018

Golden beams of light woke us as the sun lingered on the horizon, scattering colors across the landscape.

A spotted towhee sat on a branch, his feathers glowing in the sunlight. His head tilted towards the sky, and he let out a call, “tweeeeeeee!”

Later, as we were hiking, a northern flicker took wing from the top of a giant pine, gliding across a cleft between two mountain sides. The red shafts of its wing feathers glowed orange in the morning light.

At lunch, I shared my pint of sweet tea with Jay. Such a treat on a hot day! Our packs were getting lighter as we drank the pounds of water we’d been carrying.

We hiked for much of the day through an old burn. Burned pineapples dotted the landscape. Wait, what??? No, these were the bodies of yucca plants, with leaves singed off, only a tuft poking from each top.

Burned pineapples? No, just singed yucca!

In one cleft, many large trees had been burned from trunk to tree top. New growth was sprouting along the branches, giving each limb a slight fuzzy green covering.

Burned trees showing new growth along branches.

Jay and I were curious, what kind of tree were these? We examined the new pine needles, but were no wiser.

“If only we could see a cone, that would tell us!” I exclaimed in frustration. With charred ground underfoot, a pine cone seemed unlikely.

We kept hiking, and came around another corner, finding more of the same trees, slightly less burned. Eagerly I scanned the ground, and felt as if I had won the lottery when I spied an unburned cone! Jay and I looked at it, seeing the distinctive feature of exserted trident-shaped bracts, or “mouse tails”, disappearing into each cone scale. “Douglas fir!” Jay exclaimed. He looked it up, and found that this area grows a variety called bigcone Douglas-fir. We were amazed and delighted to have the mystery solved.

April 23, 2018

Today was a town day. We reached Hwy 2 at 7:30 a.m. The first car to pass stopped to give us a ride! Kyle, an enthusiastic hiker, kindly dropped us at the grocery store in downtown Wrightwood, CA. After repeatedly thanking him, we eagerly went inside to buy breakfast.

The town of Wrightwood was one of the best organized hiker towns I’d ever seen. The grocery store had umbrella-shaded tables at which hikers could eat and organize their resupplies. Next to the tables were charging stations for phones and other electronics. Just down the street, the hardware store was a cross between an outdoor equipment store and a place to buy tools, paint, etc. Behind the store was a back deck where hikers could sit and chat. The checkout counter had a list of a dozen locals who would host hikers for a night. We talked to a few hikers and some locals. We considered trying to stay the night with a host family, but finally decided to keep hiking.

Next to the hardware store was the post office. Jay and I picked up new shoes we had ordered on line, then headed back to the grocery store.

We bought food for the next section of our hike, then bought lunch from the deli inside the store. Many people stopped to talk, and it was quite a while before we were ready to leave.

Just as we were saying goodbye and heading towards the street, two men who had been quietly eating lunch called out, “Heading back to the trail? If you have 15 minutes to spare, we can take you when we finish eating.”

Jay and I didn’t need a second invitation! We happily sat down again, and got to know our new trail angels. Brad and Steve were very friendly, and kept us laughing with jokes about hiking. When Jay told them that we were such slow hikers, we had been passed by a worm while hiking the Appalachian Trail, Brad responded thoughtfully, “It’s all in your perspective. You know what the snail said when he boarded the turtle’s back?”

“I don’t have a clue!” I confessed.

“Wheeeee!” Brad grinned. And, still laughing, we climbed into their car for a ride back to the PCT.

Wheee!

Thank you so very much, Brad and Steve!

Wind Shy

April 18, 2018

“Let’s take it a bit easier today.” Jay and I agreed. After hiking until dusk yesterday, setting up camp early sounded wonderful.

A few steps down the trail, Jay pointed out a great blue heron. I watched, enchanted, as it wheeled overhead and flew off, great wings flapping slowly.

About a mile later, we crossed a road and were greeted by two hikers in a camper van.

“I know it’s early, but would you like a soda?” 2taps asked. Jman introduced himself from inside the van. We chatted for a few minutes, talking hikes while Jay and I shared a Mountain Dew. Properly buzzed on caffeine and sugar, and happy from meeting two friendly hikers, we wished them good hiking and continued.

Jman and 2taps dispensing trail magic

We walked over and between rounded hillsides dotted with old burned tree branches and the new growth of bush poppies in bloom.

The trail crossed under Cedar Springs Dam, then climbed above Silverwood Lake. We enjoyed the view of blue water and sandy beaches for several miles, mostly high above, once dipping very near the water.

Silverwood Lake

As afternoon progressed, the wind began to rise. At 4:30 p.m., we stopped to get water from a creek and assess our position. We had hiked about 15 miles today, and it was time to find a campsite. However, a wind storm was forecast for tonight and all of tomorrow. Ever since our adventure coming down from Fuller’s Ridge, I had no desire to walk through another gale. (See my post, ‘Wind!’) But I liked even less the thought of a long night with wind beating against our tent.

“The trail will be headed uphill from here. It might be hard to find a sheltered campsite,” Jay counseled. “Tomorrow the wind might be worse.”

“I don’t see much shelter here. Let’s go on while there’s still daylight,” I urged. “I’d rather be hiking than worrying about wind ripping the tent. If we see a good spot, we can stop.”

We knew it was possible that we might have to hike another 13 miles to the Best Western hotel at I-15, at Cajon Pass. At our pace, we’d arrive at midnight. With memories of our ordeal down Fuller’s Ridge, we decided to hike a bit smarter this time. We pulled Larabars and dark chocolate bars out of our food bags. This evening’s hike would be fueled with carbohydrates, eaten once per hour. We also agreed to stop once every 30 minutes for water.

On we forged. Unlike our last storm adventure, this time the trail sometimes followed the lee side of a ridge, giving us an occasional respite from the cold, battering wind. Dark descended, and we kept climbing, using our flashlights. Stars peeked from above. The familiar constellations of Orion, Taurus, and the Pleides brought comfort.

I began to lag behind a bit, legs protesting against the long day of use. Suddenly, in the dark, I noticed Jay ahead of me, standing very still, flashlight focused on the ground ahead. He turned and smiled as I cautiously approached.

“You’re just in time to see the end of it,” he remarked. Puzzled, I looked at his flashlight beam, and glimpsed a couple of inches of shiny scales disappearing into the undergrowth.

“A snake?” I guessed. Jay nodded. “Was it big?”

“Probably about four feet. It was crossing the trail. It didn’t seem bothered by my light. It wasn’t a rattlesnake. It had black and white bands.”

Later we looked up snakes of southern California and concluded that Jay had been privileged to see a king snake, so-called due to their resistance to rattlesnake venom, and their ability to dine upon other snakes.

About 9:00 p.m., we noticed the wind was growing softer. By now we were 400 feet below the top of our climb. It was tempting to continue, to see the lights of the freeway below. However, when we saw a flat sandy space near a few sheltering bushes, we decided to stop for the night, while we were still on the lee side. My feet and legs had been aching for a few miles, and Jay admitted he was beginning to feel his tendons protesting.

We set up camp, weighting the tent stakes with rocks, gladly crawling into our fabric home. Train whistles blew through Cajon Pass, just a few miles away. Wind alternately whined and roared through power lines high above us, but only tendrils from the largest gusts reached our tent.

I lay, warm, stretching tired muscles, happy, but unable to stop shivering. What was wrong? Perhaps it was the last four hours of carbohydrates I had been consuming. Great for an athletic event, but not so good for relaxing. Jay was also wide awake. Perhaps some cheese would give our stomachs something to do. We ate a few ounces, and sure enough, the shivering began to abate. I gratefully let tense muscles go, quickly falling asleep after hiking 24.8 miles.

April 19, 2018

A glorious sunrise brought us awake. We packed up in the rising wind, happy in the knowledge that breakfast was just 4.5 miles away at the hotel.

A few minutes up the trail, we met two gold prospectors unloading their truck. They were surprised to see us. “My gosh, did you sleep up here?”

We, in turn, were intrigued with their hobby. Hard to imagine getting up before sunrise just for the fun of hauling shovels and bins to the desert in hopes of finding gold. Wishing them “good luck,” we hiked on.

Gold prospectors

The whole force of the wind met us at the summit. An incredible scene of eroded sandstone cliffs leading down to a far away highway stopped us in wonder.

Jay cautiously looks over the edge. Amazing!

The trail snaked around the cliffs, eventually diving over the edge. I was delighted to be hiking this in daylight, even with wind pushing us back and forth. I felt we had hiked into an exotic postcard.

The last mile followed a creek flowing between cliffs, out the mouth of Crowder Canyon. Beauty surrounded us with sparkling water, gray cliffs, level path, and breakfast, showers, and a bed awaiting.

Deep Creek

April 17, 2018

Southern California continues to delight as we hike. During the last eight days, we’ve hiked through the Mission Creek drainage, into the town of Big Bear Lake where we enjoyed three days of rest, then on through the Holcomb Creek drainage.

This morning began with azure sky and a blessed cease in the wind. We found a sunny niche in a pile of boulders for breakfast. Just as we were finishing, three hikers came around the corner.

“Oh! Are you hiking the PCT?”

The three women laughed as we confirmed their guess. “We have something for you!”

Raquel, Tanya, and Lori had decided to give out trail magic on their hike today. They handed us two cutie tangerines and two ziplock baggies with homemade lemon and white chocolate chip cookies!

Encouraging words adorned the ziplock bags. “You can do it!” “I’m proud of you!”

What a delicious and thoughtful treat, and the conversation with three enthusiastic hikers provided even more fun!

Thank you Tanya, Lori, and Raquel!

Our breakfast trail angels told us there was water cached at the Splinter’s Cabin trailhead. When we crossed the bridge spanning Deep Creek, we obediently turned left towards the trailhead, taking a small detour to fill water bottles. Once again, thank you to the trail angels!

Deep Creek bridge

The trail followed Deep Creek all day, clinging to the canyon wall, often far above the creek.

Warm weather and calm air brought out many birds. A spotted towhee flicked from tree branch to bush, letting out a short twee-twee-twee-trrrrrr!

The trail took a turn around a steep slope, and on a tree trunk below me I spied a Nuttall’s woodpecker, the red patch on its head flashing an attention-getting signal.

As I hiked, I could hear the song of the wrentit, a musical ping pong ball bouncing slow, slow, fast, fast, faster, fastest!

Along a wide ridge, Jay and I were stopped by the sight of a live oak tree full of orangy-red catkins. These conspicuous male flowers make pollen for the tiny female flowers nestled in forks of twigs higher in the trees.

Amazing load of catkins on this live oak tree!

A rock wren said hello as we paused to admire some boulders in a shady cleft of the canyon. The sun was heating the land. A turkey vulture swooped by, then turned and circled lower over us. Hmm, I didn’t think we smelled that bad! One can’t fool a vulture’s nose, though. A few minutes later, as we passed a short cliff, a baby rattlesnake startled me. As it slithered through a bush and up the rocks, Jay encouraged me to take its picture.

Only a baby rattler – about eight inches long, and heading away from me!

Baby blue eyes, lupine, desert indian paintbrush, and poisonous poodle dog bush often lined the path. Jay and I joked about “doing the poodle dance” as we contorted our bodies and legs around this desert menace.

baby blue eyes

lupine
desert indian paintbrush
poodle dog bush

We stopped at Willow Creek, a tributary of Deep Creek, filling water bottles and enjoying the shade of numerous California sycamore trees. Another hiker paused as he saw us. “Have we passed the hot springs yet?” We assured him that delight was still to come, and he continued, after taking our picture at this beautiful spot.

Sandy beach, granite boulders, shady sycamores … who needs a hot spring?

A couple miles later, we did, indeed, see the hot springs. Dozens of people were wandering along the shore of Deep Creek, obviously enjoying this oasis of comfort. It is a popular spot for locals and PCT hikers. A man with a deep tan and gray hair passed us, wearing only a mini-skirt and a day pack. I was suddenly seized with shyness. I had everything I needed right on my back. Did I really want to go talk to a bunch of strangers? “It won’t bother me if we just keep going. I don’t mind missing this side trip,” I suggested to Jay. He agreed, and we kept walking.

Afternoon turned to early evening. A raven sported along the canyon rim, riding updrafts as sun and lengthening shadows brought breezes into play.

We crossed Deep Creek again, over an arched bridge set into rock on either side. I was ready to find a campsite, but the trail had other ideas. Following steep canyon walls, just under the rim, the trail ranged from four inches to four feet in width. “It’s kind of like hiking along the side of a curtain,” Jay remarked. I agreed, as I tried not to look down at beautiful sandy campsites beside the creek hundreds of feet below us.

I looked ahead. The trail heaved in and out, miles of cliffs undulating into the distance. Good campsite terrain it was not!

A canyon wren began its melodic downward spiral song, singing the sun to the canyon rim. We kept hiking, enjoying the evening coolness. As the miles progressed and my legs and feet began to ache, I began eyeing every tiny flat spot, calculating whether our tent would fit or not.

The canyon mouth came into sight, and with a sigh of relief we crossed the Mojave River Forks Dam. I began hopefully eyeing a line of willows and sycamores beside Deep Creek. Sure enough, just as evening deepened to dusk, Jay found a sheltered nook. I hung our food bags from an accommodating willow tree and brushed my teeth by the light of a two day old moon and Venus in a purple sky. Jay later told me that he heard a beaver gnawing on twigs during the night, but after 18 miles, I heard nothing once my head hit my sleeping pad!

Moon and Venus over a sycamore tree.