May 2, 2017

This morning brought the delight of a hot shower, delicious breakfast, and Jay feeling much better after a sound night’s sleep. The Rock Inn had provided just the medicine needed!

It was with reluctance that we left this haven of warmth and friendliness to face the inhospitable wind once again as we walked two miles back to the PCT. Clouds still hugged the mountain tops, which was where the PCT quickly took us.

Near noon, the clouds lifted, revealing blue sky and sunshine! When we saw two hikers, Cheetoh and Ruby, eating lunch in the lee of a rock escarpment, we decided to join them. We enjoyed the conversation as much as the food, once again trading hiker stories. The end of lunch was marked by a western tanager, first sighted by Cheetoh. We all paused, captivated with its bright colors of yellow body, black wings, and red head. These birds have my all time approval, because not only are they beautiful, but during breeding season, they eat many insects, including wasps!

Lifting clouds reveal azure sky – at least for a few moments!

Soon after we began hiking again, the clouds returned, making our sunny lunch just a memory.

Water today came from a spring at Upper Shake Campground. Trail crews have put a great deal of work into this portion of the PCT, creating a lovely detour to fetch life-giving liquid! Live oaks and Coulter pines became more numerous, paving the trail with cushiony pine needles peppered with rolling acorns.

Pollen (male) cones on a Coulter pine

Near the end of the day, we came across this hiker-made sign. Seeing miles marked in kilometers reinforced the knowledge that we shared the PCT with many people from other countries.

800 kilometers = 497 miles

We pitched our tent a half mile south of Sawmill Campground, once again choosing solitude over the companionship of other hikers. Temperatures had dropped precipitously since our sunny lunch, and I crawled into my sleeping bag wearing all the clothes from my pack. I admit to harboring a few longing memories of last night’s comfort at The Rock Inn. However, as I reflected upon western tanagers, pollen cones from Coulter pines, and acorn signposts, serene tranquility filled my heart. (My nose, on the other hand, remained cold!) 🙂

May 3, 2018

Early in our hike today we came across another hiker-made signpost. Five hundred miles seemed like a lot until I did the math and realized that we still had 2,150 miles to go!

500 miles! Worth celebrating!

A man offered us water and mints from his car as we crossed a dirt road. He was running support for another hiker, but had come prepared to help anyone he met. We ate the mints with gratitude and thanks. I’m now embarrassed to admit, I have forgotten this trail angel’s name.

An unexpected trail angel!

Live oaks and pines continued to line the trail, bathing us in beauty. The sunshine brought rising temperatures. With a mostly downhill slant to our path, miles flew by!

Blue skies and sunshine filter through the canopy of oaks and pines, with green ground cover delighting the eyes!

“Enjoy the trees,” Jay warned. “We’ll be hitting Antelope Valley this evening, and it will be a while before we see such lush vegetation again.”

Our first good look at Antelope Valley, notorious for wind and high temperatures.

As the afternoon progressed, the ubiquitous wind began to strengthen. Chamise chaparral and dry grasses became the major life forms around us. Though we had not planned to reach Antelope Valley today, our light packs and the easy trail kept urging us forward.

Nearing the valley floor, our oak and pine cover was left behind.

Just on the other side of Highway 138, a sizeable piece of property has been turned into a hiker hostel. The owner, Richard, and the caretaker, Bob, are happy to have hikers take shelter here for a donation of $10 per person. They provide a shuttle to Neenach Cafe and Market, which is owned by Richard, but we arrived just as the last shuttle was returning.

Hikers are welcome to pitch their tent on the bare dirt anywhere on the property. There are many small buildings with beds available on a first come, first served basis. One bathroom serves all hikers (about 30 that night). The wind, which was rapidly approaching gale force on the sweeping valley floor, convinced Jay and me to take shelter in a room. Not too clean, but it was private, with walls sturdy enough to block the wind, which was all I asked.

A sprawl of small rooms house either none-to-clean beds, or a jumble of junk.

Another view of this hiker hostel.


May 1, 2018

The Green Valley Fire Station at San Fransquito Canyon Rd makes a water spigot available to PCT hikers, and thus became our first objective of the day, even before breakfast. Our online map and water report informed us that we would have to hike nearly 15 miles before reaching the next reliable water on the PCT. With a sigh for weight, but grateful nonetheless for this water spigot, we each filled three liters.

A nine hundred foot climb, over the course of 1.5 miles, was the next job for the day, bringing us out of San Fransquito Canyon. Lowering clouds and cold wind, with a few spatters of raindrops, rewarded us at the top of the ‘highlands’.

Nothing can compare with hiking into the cloud ceiling!

Once again the trail wound up and down and around, following the contours of the landscape.

The clouds followed us into the sheltering oaks on the sides of the ridges.

As we hiked, the wind became stronger, bringing downright frigid temperatures sweeping across the terrain.

After seven miles, Jay began shivering, and admitted that he felt rather under the weather, with a persistent headache and deep-seated chill. Our planned destination, a back country campground at 5,000 feet in elevation, was 8 miles further. Suspiciously, I eyed the clouds wisping around us. Camping inside this fog seemed a recipe for illness.

A few days earlier, on Half Miles’s PCT notes, Jay had read about a place called The Rock Inn, a restaurant and bar that also rented a few upstairs rooms. We had discussed stopping there, but decided it sounded rather noisy, since it advertised live music every night.

But now, with chilled water spitting on us from clammy clouds, and Jay shiveringly miserable, it seemed time to reconsider. I checked the map, and realized we were only one mile from the road leading to this possible oasis of warmth. I checked my phone, and was delighted to find that I had coverage! I called the inn, and confirmed that they not only had room, but tonight was acoustic night, guaranteed, the lady told me, to be quieter than usual!

So Jay and I turned off the PCT at Hughes Lake Road, committing ourselves to a two mile road walk in hopes of finding warm shelter and hot food at the other end.

The Rock Inn, completely built of stone, provided a private room with a double bed, a shared bathroom, laundry, and a restaurant full of delicious food. The owner and waitresses were exceptionally friendly, encouraging us to choose our own room, then helpfully packing food to be carried upstairs for a quiet meal. I felt as if I had walked through a time warp, transitioning so suddenly from bone-chilling wind-swept countryside to old-fashioned, paint-chipped, luxurious comfort.

A postcard shows the incredible rock work that gave the Rock Inn its name. On this chilly night, the bar and restaurant were busy, but the upstairs had only ourselves and two other thru-hikers, a couple from Hong Kong.