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

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.


April 6, 2018

The wind whirled above while we slept peacefully in a protected spot at Strawberry Camp Tentsite, high in the San Jacinto Mtns. Little did we know what the wind was bringing as we slumbered!

Morning dawned with blue skies, the sun sparkling through pines across the ridge top. Spectacular views lured us to walk slowly, stopping often to look out across steep drop offs as the trail meandered along the top of the ridges.

We stopped to fill and treat water from a spouting stream, the headwaters of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. It boggled my mind to think of this cheerful dancing rivulet flowing 42 miles, collecting more streams but never reaching the Pacific Ocean, instead emptying into Lake Elsinore, a part of the land-locked Great Basin.

Collecting water from the headwaters of the San Jacinto River.

The wind, a cold and persistent presence all day, gained even more power in the afternoon. We were descending Fuller Ridge, hiking miles and miles of switchbacks, making our way down the armpit of the mountain slope. This half circle in the landscape caught the wind in a giant eddy, swirling around us, sending me staggering across the path, first one way, then another.

As evening loomed, we found a flat spot, partly protected by bushes. Jay laid out the tent, pounding stakes deep into the soil. As we lifted the roof of the tent, a gust gleefully ripped tent stakes out of the ground, turning our shelter into a sail.

We consulted the map and decided to hike on, hoping the tent site in half a mile would provide more shelter. It was a vain hope. As we rounded the slope, the wind whipped wildly across the landscape, threatening to shred any fabric we might try to put up. We kept hiking.

A mile later, with dusk taking serious hold of the day, we came upon another campsite, slightly sheltered with a couple of boulders. Once again we laid out the tent. This time Jay weighted our tent stakes with huge hunks of rock. The wind teasingly backed off long enough for us to get both tent poles inserted, then, with a powerful puff of air, lifted the tent like a balloon, trailing tent stakes wildly behind.

We decided to dig out our flashlights and keep on hiking. Jay saw several rats. Twice I spied fat mice scurrying across the dark trail. Then one mouse ran straight up a boulder beside my shoulder. I am convinced that rodents know no fear, and these mice exemplified that opinion.

Suddenly, around a corner, my flashlight beam caught the form of a three foot yellow rattlesnake. I stopped, hoping the light would scare the snake. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop, slithering down the trail as if he owned it. I backed up, bumping into Jay.

“What is it?” Jay asked.

“S-s-s-snake!” I stuttered, my hands flapping in agitation, my feet trying to levitate me off the trail completely.

“Do you want me to go first?” Jay asked kindly.

I didn’t want either of us to go, but since Jay was volunteering, I cravenly stepped behind him.

The snake continued its chosen course toward us. We hugged the outer edge of the trail, our heels hanging in space as we strove to let the rattler have most of the path. As the snake came upwind, it suddenly smelled us, and let out a warning rattle. Despite the fact that the snake was behind me, my feet took charge of my body and began running. Jay didn’t run, which quickly caused a collision between us. I wanted to ask, “Why aren’t you running?” But Jay already knew my status as a scaredy-cat. The Dutch saying, “een kat in het nauw maakt rare sprongen” (a threatened cat makes odd jumps), definitely described me at the moment!

After descending 8,070 ft, we passed a water faucet at the base of the mountain. Several hikers were cowboy camped on the pavement, gear strewn nearby. We continued, hoping to find shelter from the wind. The further we progressed on the valley floor, the stronger the wind became. By now it was near gale force, beating against us incessantly.

At 11:00 p.m., after hiking 23.5 miles, we gave up and lay down in a sandy ditch with just our sleeping bags. The wind could have been jet engines roaring overhead. It pulled and tugged at my sleeping bag, threatening to sail away with it, but I tucked the edges firmly around me and just dared that wind to part us! It was a long seven hours until sunrise, and I didn’t get much sleep, but at least my legs got to rest.

April 7, 2018

I viewed the sunrise through sleep deprived, sand-crusted eyes. Gladly I shook the sand out of my sleeping bag. Only 2.7 miles to Interstate 10 and civilization!

An hour and a half later, Jay and I were hitching a ride to Banning, CA. A school principal with the trail name of Anonymous dropped us at a Travelodge. It was truly amazing how, once again, our circumstances had swung from peril to luxury in a matter of hours!