Monday, May 31, 2010

Walking Towards the North Star

Day 48-May 31st
Destination: McIver Springs Cabin
Miles: 23

Last night Apricots and Psycho discussed waking up at 4am, to get an early start on the day. After dinner, Uncle Tom rolled in suggesting a night hike at 3am. This morning, Train woke the crew up at 2:15am, and by 3am, we were packed and moving.

The near full moon provided ample light for our walking. It cast enough light to generate shadows on the far sides of the sagebrush and buckbrush we were walking past. Even though the moon was very bright, it did not drown out the ample display of light from other constellations and stars. The tread was soft sandy grit, free of rocks, so at times we looked away from the trail and it's surrounds to see a brilliant display of light.

As the sun slowly rose on us, we looked upon the silhouetted joshua trees acting as hilltop fractals reaching into the amber red horizon. The light was just beginning to shine upon parts of the hillside, and the purple lupines stood out as the glowed in the light of dawn.

Just before the sun crested, the seven of us (NonStop, Uncle Tom, Sir Richard Wizard, General Lee, Train, Apricots, and Psycho) took shelter from the wind and watched the sun rise over the hills to the east. After a brief pause of time, we continued our descent down to the water cache. We had covered nine miles, and it was only 7am.

After a breakfast (which was more like lunch), we made a 1700 foot climb, gradually working our way to 7000 feet. Slowly dropping down on the other side of the hill, we ate lunch at 11am, and made plans to finish our day at McIver Springs Cabin, a short 9 miles away.

By this time, the early start on the day was beginning to catch up on Psycho. With the heat, he was feeling exhausted. To pass time, Apricots came up with two characters for a story, and Psycho built a long detailed story about Tim the Horned Toad and Shelly the Tortoise. While the story helped pass time, it was not enough, so Apricots asked for a story about a mountain goat and a magic carpet.

Moments later, the trail reached a rarely used jeep road. The moment we hit the road, our mountain goat and magic carpet arrived. Two gold prospectors driving a beat up pick up truck asked if we knew where McIvers Spring Cabin was. We hopped in the back of the truck and directed them the final few miles down the road to the cabin.

Once at the cabin, we shed our dusty sweaty clothing and washed them in the spring. We then made a four o'clock dinner and laid out our bed under the stars. Exhausted from rising early, we will go to sleep early tonight and likely get an early start tomorrow as well, just not 3am early.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

We're not done with the desert yet.

Day 47-May 30th
Destination: Dove Spring Canyon Rd.
Miles: 20

We slept through our alarm. Apparently, Psycho needed the sleep after his hard day yesterday. Once we were moving though, it would seem that he got the rest he needed. Apricots and Psycho glided with relative ease through the Piute mountains, down Landers Creek.

After taking second breakfast at Piute Mountain Road and Landers Creek with Uncle Tom and Pat Burglar, we continued our casual stroll through the pine forest. After a couple miles, we passed into a burn zone, that appears to have burned over a year or two ago. Trees were charred black, but vegetation had started to take hold. The trail was flanked by purple flowers and yellow flowers. The occasional lupine flowers stood out in contrast to the black pinyons.

The shade of the forest was soon gone as we dropped down to the hot dry desert. Just as we dropped into the barren shadeless stretch, we caught a glimpse of the snow capped Mt. Whitney (which is about 10 days away for us). Looking out at the wasteland, we dreaded hiking the desert in the heat of the day. We bumped into some "flip-flop" hikers on our descent, Tumbleweed and Grammelissa. We knew these two from our first week of hiking. They informed us the water cache ahead was near empty, which we later discovered to be incorrect.

After replenishing our water supply, we gathered under the one large joshua tree and waited out the heat. Perched on the hill, we watched hikers roll in, expressing relief that the cache was not empty. As the heat of the day passed overhead, we tried our best to stay in the shade and nap.

Sooner than we should have, we continued on in the late afternoon heat. Climbing up and around Mayan Peak. Passing bitterbrush and sagebrush, we made the final six miles to where we are deciding to sleep under the stars. It is a near full moon tonight, and we are planning to do a bit of a night hike. We are leaving around three in the morning.

Uncle Tom is walking around begging for water, as he accidentally left his water bottles back under the Joshua Tree. We had a spare bottle, with a bit of water in it. Here's to hoping the next cache is stocked.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 46-May 29th
Destination: Robin Bird Springs
Miles: 19

We woke this morning to a slightly warmer day with no wind. The sunrise cast an amazing red glow upon the Golden Oaks we camped under. The wind died down late evening, but somehow, Psycho woke several times. through the night.

We packed up and hit the trail around 6:45. The guidebook says that from where we started yesterday is the actual southern end of the Sierra Nevada, and by the way the day beat on Psycho, it would seem so. If it weren't for the fact the Apricots was cruising down the trail. Psycho failed to drink enough water, and so after about seven miles he started dragging.

The hike was a nice collection of desert and mountain flora. At times it felt like we were back at home in Oregon, walking among the trees and grass. While at other times the heat of the day and the sage plants reminded us we are still in the desert of Southern California.

At about thirteen miles, Psycho caught up with Apricots. She had found a decent spot to have lunch with Motor, Axilla, Calorie, and his brother Double Check. Calorie is sixteen years old, probably the youngest person on the trail this year. Apricots was preparing lunch as Psycho slugged into "dining room."

After eating, we laid down for a pseudo-nap. The sun was too warm, and the shade was too cool, but we made do by draping a jacket over our legs in the shade. Axilla, Calorie, and Double Check played frisbee in the small grassy area next to our napping grounds.

After the nap, we set out up the trail. A couple hours later, we crossed the six hundred mile mark. And shortly past there, we reached Robin Bird Springs. Apricots wanted to go further, but Psycho wasn't feeling it today. As we sit here, just after dinner, Train is building a campfire. Several birds are singing their songs as the sun is beginning to set... And Pat Burglar is still trying to get his stove going so he can cook a dinner.
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Friday, May 28, 2010

Wind Wind Wind!!

(Titled with a nod to Psycho's sister, stationed overseas)

Day 45-May 28th
Destination: Golden Oak Springs
Miles: 17

Last night before going to bed, we looked out upon the nearly full moon rising over the horizon. It hung in the air briefly, before a cloud blocked out all its light. The thickness of the cloud looked like a black cloak draped across the sky, blocking all moonlight fully.

When we woke this morning, the wind was beating on the motel window, and rain was falling. Psycho suggested another zero, but Apricots knew the cost of town was draining, and that we needed to get back to the trail. So, Pat Burglar, Uncle Tom, Psycho, and Apricots went to breakfast at Kelcy's. After a full meal, we returned to the motel to pack up.

At eight thirty, our Tehachapi trail angel, Georgette, picked Apricots and Psycho up. The rain had stopped, but it was still cold, so we hit the trail with warm clothing. About two miles in, it looked as though the weather had passed, and we had nearly 2500 feet to gain over the next four miles. We stopped, and shed our long johns, pant legs, and warmer tops.

We were sorely mistaken. For every couple hundred feet of elevation we climbed, the wind speed picked up a few miles per hour. It was not long before we were being beat by constant gusts of wind over 50mph. At one point, Apricots huddled to the ground, screaming over the wind that it wasn't safe. Psycho leaned his full weight into the wind, while pushing off the ground with his trekking poles, trying to stay upright.

The air was still cold, so with the wind our entire bodies were numb with tingles. The wind would beat loose straps on our packs, causing them to whip violently, occasionally slapping them across our exposed skin; thighs, knuckles, and ear lobes. We had to keep going though, because we knew the wind would ease up, once we obtained an elevation where the vegetation was thicker.

The trail stayed on the windy side of the hill, occasionally teasing us as it neared small patches of trees. As we switch-backed up the hillside, we were assaulted with wind at face, and then at our back. Pushing strong enough to take us off the trail, the wind directed us where to plant our feet.

Around noon, we crested the hill, and were mostly taken away from the wind. You could still hear it whooshing through the trees, shaking needles and cones onto the trail. The sandy granite path had become a deep brown, darkened by decaying duff. The dark tread was highlighted by white stones, standing in stark contrast to their surrounds.

After a quick lunch and a short nap, we returned to the wind struck trail for another small climb. Fortunately, the vegetation was present enough to provide a decent break from the constant onslaught of wind. As we crested the hill, we had our first distant glimpse of the snow capped sierras. Only the closest and tallest peaks were visible, and it would have been easy to confuse the white mountain tops with distant clouds.

We made the final four mile decent to Golden Oak Springs, following the contours of the hillside, cutting into deep canyon like valleys. Late in the afternoon, we pulled into camp, where the wind still blows heavily. Hopefully, the sky stays clear, because several of the hikers here (including us) have decided to camp under the stars.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Slackpacking #2

Day 44-May 27th
Destination: Tehachapi
Miles: 8

We woke this morning and went to breakfast at Kelcy's diner with Axilla, Duff, General Lee, and Train. The waitress was a riot. She had a lot of fun playing with General Lee (who had come previously) and his southern accent. General Lee is from Georgia and has a soft drawl in his voice, sure to woo any woman. The waitress even sang a little dixie song complete with a marching dance and a salute.

After breakfast, we made our way back to the room to pack up our bags, and get ready for a nice short 8 mile slack pack. Georgette, the lady Apricots and Psycho met at the post office, was kind enough to drive us to the trail. Prior to taking us to the trail, she drove us to a sporting goods store. Psycho went over to the grocery store and grabbed 5 gallons of water.

Once dropped off at the trail, we stashed the water under a bush. The purpose of this was to enable those who did not slack pack today to have a water cache for their hike tomorrow. Without the cache, it would be a 25 mile stretch without water. Now they can have water after 8 miles, leaving a 17 mile stretch after the cache.

Psycho, Apricots, Sir Richard Wizard, Axilla, and Square Peg set out for the quick eight mile leg. One mile down the slack pack, we ran into four other hikers who were slack packing the same section today. We said our hello's and goodbye's, and made our ascent to a wind turbine covered hilltop. Three quarters of the way up the hill, the five of us rested on a small footbridge, looking out on the large hill we will be climbing tomorrow as we head out of Tehachapi.

Once atop the hill, we spent the next hour skipping down the trail, free of packs. The large wind turbines whirred hypnotically overhead as the wind blew past gently caressing the hillside flowers. Scattered California Poppies highlighted the landscape in random bursts of deep orange. With the absence of packs, we felt light and free, so at times we turned to running down the trail.

About two hours after we started, our slack packing was over. We arrived back at the road, where we put our thumbs out. In the absence of packs, a collective of hikers looks like a dangerous pack to pick up, dirty, hairy, and vagrant. Usually near a trail town, people with backpacks are picked up easily, but that was not the case today. We were aware of this problem, so we had brought a list of Trail Angels with us and called one for a ride. While waiting for him to arrive, another two hikers walked up. One was continuing on, while the other opted to catch a ride back to town with our Trail Angel.

Back to the motel we went, where we showered, made a few phone calls, and then went to dinner. Tehachapi is the last decent sized town for the next month or so, so we decided to get a good meal in while we could. Now Apricots and Psycho are back at the motel, sharing a room with Uncle Tom and Pat Burglar.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Zero in Tehachapi

Day 43-May 26th
Destination: Tehachapi
Miles: 0

Generally there is very little to say about a zero day, so the entry will be short. We will share a few highlights though.

Last night, as we walked down the street at 9pm, someone stopped mid street and yelled out to us, asking if we wanted a ride anywhere, or needed anything.

We woke this morning, and went to the post office. While there, we picked up a package sent by Psycho's parents, as well as a care package sent by Apricots' mother. At the post office, a woman asked if we were hikers. After finding out we were, Georgette asked if we wanted a ride anywhere. She drove us back to our hotel.

After going to the grocery store to resupply, we were walking the mile and a half back to the hotel. Half way there, a woman pulled her car over and asked if we wanted a ride.

That is three strangers who offered rides, without us even trying to hitch. After reading a journal from another hiker, we found out another hiker (Slimjim) was driven all around town for a day, and then the driver gave SlimJim a new pair of gloves to replace the pair he lost on the last leg.

It is truly remarkable how often complete strangers go out of their way to help us on our journey.

When we returned to the hotel, we found team Megatex had arrived with a herd of other hikers. It has been nice to catch up with them and share our respective stories. Just a day behind, and yet completely different whether experience for them.

Tomorrow we plan on either heading out for a full hike, or just an eight mile slack pack, and another restful day in town.

"No rush to the Sierras", right?
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The Long and Winding Path to Tehachapi

Day 42-May 25th
Destination: Tehachapi
Miles: 17

After 24 miles yesterday, seven in the heavy wind, it was not abnormal for us to feel exhausted as we stepped out onto the trail today. We were not so beat by the wind that today's hike was intolerable, but we were definitely feeling yesterday's walk today. Add that to the fact that today's trail had the proclivity to be indirect and confusing, and you have a harder than normal day, despite the low mileage and the call of town.

Most of the trail today was bisected, intersected, crossed, and crisscrossed by motorcycle trails or ATV trails. At times this made it frustrating, because it was difficult to tell which path was the trail. Other times, the paths were appreciated because they provided a more direct path from 'A' to 'B'. Today's trail had the proclivity to do some unusually indirect paths. In reality, the trail out today should have only been about 14-15 miles, but due to some illogical trail design, it was 17 miles.

On the bright side, the grading of the trail was amazing at times. For several miles today, we crossed a flat footpath that was carved into the hillside. All plants near encroachment had been cut back, and we were traveling on tread that was four feet wide at times. Of the 560 miles, today's walk included some of the best tread we have experienced.

After roughly 12 miles, we found a decent flat spot and cooked a serious lunch, trying to eat the rest of the food we were carrying. Once consumed we laid down for an hour nap, before hitting the final stretch of trail. For the last five miles we could see the highway, which we slowly wound our way towards.

Two miles before the end, we were detoured because of construction around the massive hypnotic wind turbines. The posted detour sign pointed downhill, where no trail existed, so we were forced to bushwhack our way down. Fortunately, it was all easy small vegetation, but we never really found the trail again. Since the trail disappeared, we cut cross country to a jeep road, and followed the jeep road out to the highway. Just before reaching the highway, we had to crawl under a barbed wire fence to get out of the private property we somehow found ourselves on.

Rumor mills had stated that the hitch to Tehachapi would be hard, so I immediately crossed the highway and stuck my thumb out. Thirty seconds later, the first passing truck pulled over and gave us a ride into town. Time to relax and resupply.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Crossing The Mojave

Day 41-May 24th
Destination: Tylerhorse Canyon
Miles: 24

Yesterday we had snow. Yesterday we crossed the 500 mile mark. Yesterday we had wind.

The only thing similar to yesterday was the wind. We woke in the middle of the night because our tent was flapping too much in the wind. The ground was impossible to stake into, so we had to set up our double rainbow tarptent in a stakeless fashion. It stands fine this way, but with wind, it can get a little loud, as the corners are looser. Fortunately, we were at Hiker Town, so around 2am, we grabbed our pads and sleeping bags and moved into the garage, and slept soundly for three more hours.

Waking at five, we made coffee and ate our oatmeal warm, both a rare treat for us. The sunrise was beautiful, and by six thirty we were moving. We are still a day ahead of Megatex. We have been traveling with a new group of gathered hikers (though not a large group, just a collective of pairs and single hikers). Joining us at the hostel last night, and traveling across the Mojave with us were:
Motor Giggle Bootie Butt,
Sunshine + Grateful
Pica + Catch Up
Maybelline + Zach (I think)
Wild Child + Josh (I think)
Darko + En Passant
Papparazi (aka Alabama)

The walk into the Mojave was relatively cool in the morning, with little wind. Apricots and Psycho made the crossing mostly without company. We followed the open California Aquaduct for a couple miles before turning onto the closed Los Angeles Aquaduct. Blooms of large petaled white/purple flowers were scattered across our footpath until we hit the LA Aquaduct, which we walked along the top of for a mile or two before dropping down onto a frontage road.

Once on the road, the next few hours were spent walking along the compacted sun baked dirt of rarely used roads. Joshua Trees stood idly by as we passed them. Ant colonies actively milled about their homes, gathering whatever it is they gather. And we trudged on, as the heat increased. The sky offered us a beautiful rainbow between two clouds, though it was more of a line than the typical arch.

By 1:15, we had covered 17 miles of trail and were ready for a break. We huddled under the Cottonwood Creek Bridge, wearing jackets to stay warm, as the wind whipped under the bridge. After a moderately uncomfortable lunch, we crawled up onto the hill and laid out in the sun, wearing down jackets, for a midday siesta.

The rest was short, and before long we were moving again, only this time with fierce wind whipping us as we climbed the seven miles to Tylerhorse Canyon. Our straps flapped our legs, and our hats did their best to try and leap from our heads. The wind blew our trekking poles off to the sides, and sometimes we were turned ninety degrees from forward.

We powered through though, and dropped down to a canyon which is still windy, but far less so. Psycho filtered water, while Apricots made dinner. Today was our longest day yet, and we passed the 20% mark of the trail, so we celebrated by eating a candy bar and enjoying the mini-bottles of Makers Mark, provided courtesy of Apricots' brother.

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gloves, Down Jacket, Stocking Cap, and Snow

Day 40-May 23rd
Destination: Hiker Town
Miles: 24 (sort of)

We woke to the same cold wind that tucked us in last night. It is strange to know that we are hiking down into the Mojave Desert. Last night, Apricots woke to the sound of snow falling on the tent, and while none of it stuck, it was still very cold in the morning.

We made a short hike to Upper Shake Campground, where we took a walk down a jeep road to Pine Canyon Road. Shortly after we hit the road, snow started blowing horizontally into our face. Walking along Pine Canyon, we passed through the small town of Three Points. The old gas station had been turned into a church on sundays, and a bar the rest of the week. Five years later, the gas station now serves as a place to get married.

When Psycho hiked in 2005, he met Dave Canfield, who took in 20 or so hikers for the night and cooked a dinner for them. This time around, Psycho and Apricots were huddled behind a small shed eating second breakfast when he walked up. Psycho immediately recognized the trail angel. After talking with him for 20 minutes, he invited us back to his house, but we decided to continue on. Apricots felt a little ill, and weak of energy. We just wanted to cover five more miles to Hiker Town, where we could just sit and relax without the worries of needing to get more miles done.

Hiker Town is like an old abandoned movie set that was used for western movies filmed out of hollywood. It is not that, but has that feel. The owner is in a persistent mode of build out. There are small boardwalks in front of small stores, hotels, and post offices. Old "Wanted Dead or Alive" signs adorn the posts, and rails provide tie downs for horses.

We plan on staying in our tent here tonight and rising early to make the long flat walk across the Mojave tomorrow. Hopefully the wind will die down, and snow will not fall. The cooler temperature will be appreciated, but with wind it can get annoying. We'll see how tomorrow turns out.
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She has huuuuge cones

Day 39-May 22nd
Destination: Mile 493ish
Miles: 15

We were on the trail by 9am, not bad considering yesterday. Apricots' brother arrived at Casa de Luna shortly after 2pm. He arrived with a cooler full of drinks, several tortillas, and a grip of meat for cooking on the grill. He also brought our favorite drink, Maker's Mark...three bottles, plus two mini bottles.

Mark quickly acquired the trail name "Bartender" from the hiking community, and it was not long before he was getting a tour of the property from Doug (who looks and acts like he was just pulled from a lead role in a Cheech&Chong film). After the tour and a few introductions, Mark was on the grill, cooking up some Carne Asade for the hordes of hikers.

The rest of the evening was spent telling Mark (Bartender), of our exploits over the last month. Yet, like any hiker, staying up past nine is a challenge, and we found ourselves rolling into the Magical Manzanita grove shortly after 10pm.

We woke this morning and Apricots, Psycho, and Bartender grabbed a quick morning coffee before enjoying Terri Anderson's standard pancake breakfast. Apricots and Psycho packed their bags after deciding not to "zero" a full day at Casa de Luna, like Train, Wizard, Uncle Tom, and General Lee did.

We chose to get back to where its calmer, back to the reason we are out here, back to the trail. The Mayor set out ahead of us, with Genius and DareDevil. We set out half an hour later with Tiffany (Darko) and Aaron (En Passant). Mark drove us up to the trail, and we thanked him as best we could, but not nearly enough, before hitting the trail.

Up and over a hill, past some chamise and dirt roads, and suddenly (or so it seemed) we had covered eight miles of trail. The sun was out and the sky was clear, but the temperatures were rather low. As we took a midday siesta, we were forced to where a warm layer, to rest comfortably in the sun.

After lunch and siesta, we steadily climbed to roughly 5500 feet, where we have roughly followed the ridge line. The wind is heavy, and the temperature is cool (if not cold). We find ourselves actually asking for heat. This, likely, will not be the case for us tomorrow as we drop down to Antelope valley to cross the Mojave desert.
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Friday, May 21, 2010

Lounging at Casa de Luna

Day 38-May 21st
Destination: Casa de Luna (the Anderson's)
Miles: 7.5

No rush today. We were pulling into another trail angel's residence. This time, Casa de Luna in Green Valley. Places like this are rare on the trail, and it's unfortunate that there is only 24 miles between the Saufley's Hiker Heaven and the Anderson's Casa de Luna, but that is the way it is, and we are very grateful. Besides, we are at nearly 500 miles, and what better way to reward ourselves than a series of relaxing days.

The Anderson's and the Saufley's are the king and queens of trail angeling in southern california, if not the whole trail. While the Saufleys have to institute a two night maximum, the Andersons try to maintain a two night minimum. I don't anticipate two nights here, but it is sort of a vortex, so we will see.

Upon arriving at a road next to a ranger station, we phoned the host, who promptly drove up to the trail and picked us up. Last night we slept at the water cache they maintain, and now after a short three hour walk, we are lounging in a hammock. Everyone is milling about in the Hawaiian shirts, provided to add to the atmosphere. Jethro Tull is playing on the radio, and a ragtag collective of hiker trash is gathered around the coolers diminishing what seems to be a never ending collection of beer and soda.

We arrived, catching the tail end of a community breakfast of pancakes drizzled in sticky syrup, while those who stayed over night, slowly emerged from the endlessly deep magical manzanita grove that serves as their backyard. The manzanita's are rumored to offer unfathomably great sleep to all those who enter.

Tacked to the garage door of their modest yellow house is a large white banner, which reads Casa de Luna Class of 2010. Scribed across the white sheet are signatures of all the hikers who have passed through the establishment, a living growing record of those who have made the 480 mile trek to this haven.

Tonight, around seven, the hostess will mix up several large bowls of taco salad, to feed a hungry collective of nomadic hikers. Before enjoying dinner, hikers can nap in freckled sunlight under the oak trees, pull together a few players for a game of frisbee golf, or take care of the mundane tasks of laundry, internetting, showering, or journaling.

If interested, hikers can catch a ride to eight miles down the trail, and slack pack back to the Casa de Luna, for a second, third, or even fourth night of relaxation. Given the snow in the Sierras this year, not many are in a rush to get up to Kennedy Meadows, but then again, too much resting does make us soft. We need to keep moving.

We'll see what the day brings.
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

17 Miles by 2pm

Day 37-May 20th
Destination: Oasis Cache at Rd 6N09
Miles: 17

We woke at 5am, with intentions to leave by 6am. After showers, coffee, and yogurt, we helped take out the recycling. Shortly afterward, we had a ride down to the trail. It was hard to leave Hiker Heaven, but it is nice to get back to the trail.

We were walking by six thirty. An hour later we were off the roads of Agua Dulce, and back to the familiar tread of trail. The day involved two climbs of around 1000 feet. The early start made the climb easy, as the temperature was still cool. In fact it never warmed up too hot today, so most of the hike flew by with minimal struggles.

The south side of the hill was hot and dry, with a tread decomposed granite. After cresting, we dropped onto the north side which was muggier, greener, and generally shadier. Our walk took us past several small oaks and manzanitas.
Just past two, we rolled into the water cache, put together by Joe and Terri Anderson of Casa De Luna, tomorrow's destination. The inflateable monkey swings on a tree under the Pink Flamingo. Perched in one of the shade offering oaks is a Palm Tree, and the numbers --2-0-1-0-- hang gloriously between two trees. Seven chairs receive tired hikers, as they enjoy soda, beer, or water.

Uncle Tom and Pat interviewed hikers who passed us by, while Psycho dozed and Apricots napped. Duff sat quietly by as about 12 hikers passed us by, most on a mission to arrive at Casa De Luna tonight. Now, most of our crew is here, the sun has set leaving the mariners twilight glow on a cloudless sky. A half-moon shines brightly through oak canopy, as we opt to sleep under the stars.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hiker Heaven

Day 36-May 19th
Miles: 0

Agua Dulce is the town, but Hiker Heaven ( is the destination. Any hiker who has covered the 450 plus miles to get here, deserves the royal treatment from one of the PCT's most famed trail angels. Donna "L-Rod" Saufley and her husband Jeff have hosted over 3000 hikers over their thirteen years of Angeling.

During peak season, they will have up to 50 people camping in any of their nine giant tents, their trailer, the hammocks, or just around the campfire. Last night, there was about 38 of us. Describing the setup here will fail to give it the justice that it deserves, but it's worth trying.

While walking through town, toward Hiker Heaven (one mile off trail), a car pulled over and offered us a ride, even though we weren't hitching. The driver, "Burrito", volunteers to help Donna in her mission to spoil every hiker. She spends her free time shuttling hikers to larger stores in neighboring towns, such as REI or Wal-Mart, as the town of Agua Dulce had limited accomadations.

After being dropped at the Saufley's house, JJ (another volunteer) greeted us, and told us where to grab clean clothes, and what to do with all our dirty clothes. Three hours later, we were showered, and our clean clothing was being returned to us. Time is spent laying around, preparing packages, socializing, and generally being impressed with the efforts this trail angel has taken to spoil us.

There are billboards of trail information in the garage, next to bear canisters that can be borrowed for the high Sierras. Two laptops and a desktop allow for journaling, picture organizing, and printing of mailing labels for packages going out bound. A trailer offers a radio, with an eclectic mix of vinyl records, as well as a television for those who wish to catch a basketball game.

Last night, at the request of Psycho and Mover, the hosts shared their humorous and inspiring story of how it all began. It is also shared in a book titled "Zero Days" if you wish to track it down.

Right now, the day is warm, the breeze is bi-polar, and hikers are lazily scattered about resting feet beat down by forty miles of road walking. We have covered 455 miles, leaving 2205 miles left. If we take one zero day in each town I pass through between here and Canada, that leaves approximately 100 hiking days, if we wish to finish before october. This means we need to hike a minimum of 22 miles every hiking day for the next four months. Sadly, this will often be unfeasible in the Sierras, so when we get past them, it will be necessary to hike 25 or more miles on average.
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Idyllwild to Agua Dulce Photo's

A collection of photos from Idyllwild to Agua Dulce of my Pacific Crest Trail 2010 thru hike. Sorry the quality is low, I have limited computer time.

The General cooks up some Spam

Arriving at South Fork Campground, we had a fare amount of time to enjoy ourselves. We cooked up some tasty meat products. This is General Lee demonstrating delicious Spam cooking.

Uncle Tom Enjoys his Irish Car Bomb

(clip from earlier post)
After the Celtics won the game, the 60 year old Uncle Tom cashed in his winnings, three drinks courtesy of Cavaliers fans. He triumphantly downed a fierce drink, an irish car bomb. Soon enough, seven of us lined up to all do an Irish Car Bomb (Guinness, Jameson's whiskey, and Baileys Irish Cream). After we finished drinking them, an older gentleman at the end of the bar (a local), informed us that that round was on him. A kind spirit offering a little trail magic for our trail worn bodies.

It is amazing the generosity that complete strangers offer us on our journey

Ten miles to Heaven

Day 35-May 18th
Destination: Agua Dulce (Hiker Heaven)
Miles: 10
Total Miles: 455

We woke this morning to a cool breeze, and light precipitation. It was only ten miles to our destination, so we were not in any big hurry to get moving, but then again the sooner we arrived the more time we would have to relax. By the time Apricots and Psycho rolled out, all but two people had left before us.

The hike was a long stretch which offered no shade, but it did not matter because the sun was hidden by clouds. We left the KOA Kampground shortly after eight and promptly lost the trail for three minutes. After a couple fence hops, and a short walk on a rail frontage road, we reconnected and made a 1000 foot climb into the hills.

The hillsides were covered with faded yellow grass knee high, with highlights of a rich mahogany grass. We passed some fragrant sage adorned with hundreds of small purple blooms. After a short drop, we made another small climb before beginning our descent to highway 14, which we passed under through a long tunnel, emerging into Vasquez Rocks County Park.

The hillsides were covered in bulbous rocks showering sedimentary layers as a historical record of the times past. Thick layers of large aggregate interrupted several fine layers of smaller aggregate. The wind and water had carved elegant curves, dips, and bowels into the hillside leaving an alien looking landscape.

The county park had taken the liberty to mount signs in front of the plants we passed by, creating a subtle outdoor museum type feel to our walk. After passing the Vasquez rocks, we climbed to a flat plain that we walked across until entering the small town of Agua Dulce.

Now we are at Hiker Heaven, which will be described in the next post.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

I'll see your detour, and raise you two

Day 34-May 17th
Destination: Soledad Canyon Rd (mile 445)
Miles: 24

We woke this morning to cloudy skies. It appeared as though yesterdays blistering heat lost a battle to today's Pacific cold front. The dark skies, and cool breeze told us to linger longer at camp in an effort to allow the sun to burn off the clouds. Of course, we didn't really want to hike in the heat. Cloudy skies are fine, but winds can get bothersome.

We set out with an early morning stream crossing, which we mostly succeeded at rock hopping across. Then we returned to Mt. Emma Rd., for a seven mile walk to Angeles Forest Highway. Unlike yesterdays flat highway walking, this road took us up a little over 1000 feet in elevation.

The climb was difficult because all through the walk the wind was whipping against our exposed skin. Usually the heat we generate from hiking is enough to allow for short sleeves and shorts. Today, however, was different. The air was thick with moisture, with low flying clouds rolling over the hills. At one point, we could visibly detect water on our skin, despite the lack of precipitation. It wasn't long hiking in the biting wind before we took off our packs and pulled out warmer clothing. It was such a stark contrast from yesterday temperature wise, if it weren't for the chaparrel landscape one might think they were in Oregon or Washington.

After seven miles of the cold air, we reached Angeles Forest Highway, where we took second breakfast. From this point the official detour made a long unnecessary jog that would have been all paved road. Not being interested in this, the crew worked off a tip from "Law" and "Order", yesterday's trail angels. We followed a jeep road under buzzing power lines.

Soon enough we connected with Aliso Canyon Road. We chose another detour to the detour which took us by Acton, a small town on Soledad Canyon Road. There was roughly six more miles between Acton and where the detour ends. After a tasty four dollar burger we passed on through the small town.

The bar at Acton had signs outside that read, "Please don't tie your horses to the rails." While, it's reasonable to say that this was done for aesthetics, it would not be surprising to find out that the signs were put there because they actually had problems with it.

Now we are sitting in a Gazebo at a KOA Kampground. We have passed the 400 mile mark, and tomorrow we will hike through the Vasquez rocks before dropping into Hiker Heaven, a place famous for it's perfect trail Angeling. A light rain is falling as some hikers layout beds in the shelter of the gazebo.
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Sunday, May 16, 2010

20 mile roadwalk; different for everyone

Day 33-May 16th
Destination: A sandy wash on Mt Emma Road
Miles: 22

We entered the Station Fire Detour today, which includes roughly 40 miles of road walking through the desert floor. The road asphalt in the heat of the day promised to be fiercely annoying. We were going to have our joints pounded by tread that was not soft. We were going to have our bodies baked by heat rising from the asphalt. The lack of shade was going to provide us ample opportunity to catch sweet red sunburns.

Yet, here the eight of us sit discussing our day. Everyone of us covered the same distance in some fashion, but we all had entirely different days. Here is what unfolded.

After a cold stream crossing early in the morning, we made an easy hour climb over a small saddle before dropping down to a small creek. After that, we made a serious climb up to Devils Chair, and skirted the hillside until dropping down to the Visitors Center for Devils Punchbowl. This is where the day deviated for everyone.

The Mayor:
Setting out first, he was on a mission to catch up with Axilla, Danie, and Daredevil. He heard they were going to carry a bottle of whiskey, nursing it down to a drunken stupor while roadwalking. He never caught up with them, but he had four or five people stop him on the highway offering water for his journey. He arrived at camp, a sandy wash, midday and spent his afternoon reading a book and exploring the area.

General Lee:
After walking some of the road walk, he was picked up by a car. He hitched into Little Rock where he grabbed a lunch and a bottle of whiskey. He then returned to the road junction and sat in the minimal shade of a joshua tree, wearing his new hat and polished off a pint of whiskey in the heat of the day, until the rest of us (minus The Mayor) reconnected with him three miles before camp.

Sir Richard Wizard and Train:
Just before starting the roadwalk, they came across a sunday sermon by a Unitarian church at Devils Punchbowl. They sat through the sermon, listening to the preacher teach ideals through a personal account of his hiking experiences. After the sermon, they went to a sunday brunch, where they met an older lady who offered them a ride down the road (as they were now 2-3 hours behind the rest of the crew). Halfway through the hitch, the two of them saw Pat, Uncle Tom, Apricots, and Psycho, and stopped the driver to hop out and join us. They carried a bag of left-over sandwiches from the sunday sermon/brunch.

Apricots, Uncle Tom, and Psycho:
Rolling into Devils Punchbowl, Uncle Tom was told of a hidden vending machine at the visitors center. The three of us drank sweet soda, to help us power through the roadwalk. About five miles into the roadwalk (eleven into the day) Pat caught up with the three of us while we were eating lunch.

The heat of the day was on full blast, and Psycho was not interested in doing the road walk. He had convinced Uncle Tom that hitchhiking was a good idea, but Pat was busy dancing down the street, and Apricots had the will to hold the other two from hitchhiking. Thirty minutes later a car pulled over to talk to Pat who was 100 yards ahead of the other three.

From a distance, we saw lawn chairs pulled from the car. As we rounded the car, we found that the car was a traveling Trail Angel. Minutes later, we were sitting in the lawn chair, and the trail angels were serving us watermelon, chicken tacos, and soda. "Law" and "Order" provided afternoon rest on the side of the highway. While relaxing, and gathering tips on the detour, Train and Sir Richard Wizard hopped out of a car and walked up with their bag of sandwiches.

After the break, we left to continue our road walk (now six of the eight of us). Two miles down the road, a police officer pulled over to tell us a hiker was waiting for us ahead, huddled feebly under the small shade of a Joshua tree. Two miles further, the six of us met up with General Lee.

After a thirty minute break, the seven of us chose to walk into Little Rock for margaritas. The mexican restaurant we walked into didn't serve alcohol, but had killer deals on food. We ate an early dinner, and walked over to the gas station. Apricots bought new sunglasses, as hers broke five hours earlier. We also picked up some beer, wine, and whiskey and walked the final three miles to the sandy wash, our campsite.

All seven of us found The Mayor here eagerly awaiting our arrival. Now we are sitting under the star lit night, enjoying our drinks sharing all our stories. It is amazing to look back on a day that was supposed to be difficult, yet proved to be full of magic as well as different for all of us.

Tomorrow we have another twenty miles of roadwalking. Who knows what strange magic awaits.
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The Station Fire Detour begins

Day 32-May 15th
Destination: South Fork Campground
Miles: 9.7

We woke this morning with plans to head back to the trail. After a shower, we packed up our gear and discussed the trail ahead. We were facing two obstacles, Mt Baden-Powell (named after the founders of the Boy Scouts of America) and the Station Fire Detour.

Mt Baden-Powell is covered with snow, and several hikers have turned back after ill-fated attempts of adhering to the trail as fully as possible. Walls of snow provided a near impossible ascent. In fact, as this was written, Axilla, Danny, and Daredevil just arrived in camp telling us of their climb to the top. No one had signed the register until them yesterday, despite 50 plus hikers ahead of them.

Just past the 9400 foot summit, at Islip Saddle, the Station Fire detour begins. We chose to take the Manzanita Trail down to South Fork Campground, shortening a 16.7 mile hike (with summit) down to 5.2. This decision ultimately set us up for a leisurely walk over the next four days.

We could easily cover the distance in three, but Apricots' brother will be visiting us in Agua Dulce, and we wish to set ourselves up with a "nero" (near zero) day walking into Hiker Heaven. This would allow for us to fully suck in a day of relaxing, which will be appreciated after eleven walking days.

This morning Ray and Susan drove us to Phelan, a larger neighboring town, to pick up a few items before hitting the trail. Afterwards, we were dropped back at Inspiration Point, and began our hiking. The trail bounced around 7000 feet until it made a steep descent through a rich canopy of Interior Live Oaks to Vincent Gap. From there we dropped just over 5 miles down the Manzanita trail and emerged early to camp.

We enjoyed dinner around a small campfire which cooked up some serious spam and meat products. Now some of us are off filtering water, while the rest of us stare hypnotically at the campfire whilst writing in our journals.
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Friday, May 14, 2010


Day 31-May 14th
Destination: Wrightwood via Highway 2
Miles: 16

We woke this morning and went to a coffee shop rumored to offer a free cup of coffee to thru-hikers. After the coffee, Apricots and Psycho went to the Grizzly Cafe, where we refueled over a heart breakfast. The cafe offers 50 percent off to thru-hikers. We enjoyed a vast breakfast that provided the necessary calories to fuel us up the hill for today's slackpack.

A local trail angel offered to give us a ride back to the trail where we jumped yesterday. Richard Wizard, General Lee, Uncle Tom, Apricots, and Psycho piled into a car and drove the five miles down the hill. It was our plan to slackpack a thirteen mile stretch of the PCT (plus three miles back up to the trail).

Our climb of 1100 feet was warm, but when we reached the trail, clouds had rolled in. Nothing daunting, but just enough to keep the temperature down. Our climb placed us back on the PCT, still within the burnzone, but no longer in the detour area. The stalks and leaves had burned off the yuccas. The resulting plant looked like a blackened pineapple.

We worked up to 8200 feet, and were offered amazing views in all directions. Due to snow at the elevation we wandered back and forth between the trail, and a neighboring jeep road. The road was covered with pine cones, and we all stabbed the pine cones with our trekking poles trying to throw them at one another. Road walks are more fatiguing than trail walks, but they allow for more social interaction, and with the lightened packs, we were all in high spirits.

At the end of the day, we reached the road with zero traffic. We called the trail angel that gave us a ride earlier to catch a ride back to town. The ride turned out to be borderline frightening. First she drove straight past us, and then came back five minutes later. Once loaded in the car she offered us hot coffee with chocolate liquor. The drive down the hill was fast and terrifying.

She had trouble staying in the lanes, and despite our request to be dropped at the house we were staying at, she insisted we stay at her house. When we referred to our hosts as trail angels, she stopped the car and said "I am your trail angel, no one else is." She drove us to her house and insisted we toured the house so that we could come back and stay with her. She hit on everyone in the car in one fashion or another, and generally made all of us feel like we were trapped in a Stephen King novel.

Eventually we were able to get her take us back to Ray&Susan's place, where we barbecued for the hosts.

Tomorrow we head back to the trail for a grueling 85 mile hike to Agua Dulce. Fifty of which is another fire detour, most on roads.

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A short walk to Wrightwood

Day 30-May 13th
5 Miles
Destination: Wrightwood via Lone Pine Canyon Road

We woke early, but started slow, knowing that we only had about 5 miles to cover to get to a road for a hitch in to Wrightwood. The crew had decided to head into town early to gather information on the snow conditions over Blue Ridge.

The walk was a short climb over a saddle, followed by a three mile walk downhill to Lone Pine Canyon Road, for a hitch into Wrightwood. Apricots was ready for a town break as she was feeling a little off. Psycho was ready for a town break as he prefers the towns to the trail. It's a wonder he even hikes.

After reaching Lone Pine Highway, traffic looked grim. Ninety percent of the cars were heading the opposite direction that we needed to go, and the remaining cars were traveling uphill, therefore, less prone to stopping. Two cars traveling the opposite direction did stop to talk to us.

Fate was in our favor though, we had a ride in less than an hour. A college student with desires to hike the PCT found pity on us, and stopped, cramming Apricots, Psycho, and Sir Richard Wizard into her small car. Uncle Tom had caught a ride before the rest of the crew made it down the hill. When we arrived, he informed us that he had secured us free lodging at a trail angels house (Ray and Susan).

After grabbing a few things downtown, we walked the five minutes to the house and dropped our packs. We ran into some hiking friends that we catch in towns (and sometimes on the trail):

The Golden Child


We spent the afternoon walking between the pizza/bar establishment and the host house, where a pet tarantula enjoyed a meal of crickets, and one of their sons, Logan, wiggled around falling for enjoyment, and offering thru-hikers high fives.

In the late afternoon, we headed over to catch Game 6 of the NBA semi-finals, Celtics vs Cavaliers. While watching the game, an older gentleman looked at Apricots, and said, "you must be rooting for the Celtics because you look irish as hell, and you are drinking whiskey."

After the Celtics won the game, the 60 year old Uncle Tom cashed in his winnings, three drinks courtesy of Cavaliers fans. He triumphantly downed a fierce drink, an irish car bomb. Soon enough, seven of us lined up to all do an Irish Car Bomb (Guinness, Jameson's whiskey, and Baileys Irish Cream). After we finished drinking them, an older gentleman at the end of the bar (a local), informed us that that round was on him. A kind spirit offering a little trail magic for our trail worn bodies.

It is amazing the generosity that complete strangers offer us on our journey. A free place to stay, a round of drinks, and someone has offered us rides to the trail tomorrow. We are going up to slackpack the 13 mile section we skipped today. Slackpacking is where you empty your pack of 90% of its contents and only hike with the minimum needed items for a day hike. After slackpacking that section, we will hitch back to Ray and Susan's for a second night in their humble abode.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

The stomach expansion experiment

Day 29-May 12th
Miles 22
Destination: Close to MM 356.2 (off trail detour)

We woke this morning to a little condensation on the tent. Uncle Tom's tent had a little ice buildup on the tent walls. This did not deter us from getting up and moving, because we were only six and a half miles away from a delicious McDonald's breakfast.

We know what you are thinking... "McDonald's?! Really?! How can you eat that?!"

Well, after hiking for a month eating the same old food over and over again, the call of warm food(-like substance), that is not built around boiling water is very alluring.

So we packed our bags and made a very quick walk to Interstate-15 where McDonald's awaited. Along the way, Apricots (who started shortly before Psycho) heard this beastly whaling/screeching sound emanating from the trail ahead. As she approached, she saw this hairy pseudo-rabbit flopping on the trail next to a solar powered speaker. At first she thought she had encountered some bizarre trail prank. After discussing the site for several minutes with Uncle Tom, two men stood up from behind a bush and declared that they were coyote hunting.

Psycho's brother is a coyote hunter, so he can understand this a little, but these yahoo hunters didn't think it through too much. They were hunting on an interstate freeway of trails. Every day 30 plus hikers will loudly come tromping down this trail exuding a fierce human odor that could hardly be expected to do anything except deter anything but the most unintelligent of animals.

Fifty yards later Apricots, and all who followed behind, came across beast sized four-wheelers sporting every attachment but the kitchen sink. After another hiker explained that they were on a thoroughfare of backpackers, the packed up and moved along.

Prior to pulling into McDonald's, we made a descent over steep cliffs that Psycho vaguely recalls from last hike, where he night-hiked through those miles. After dropping to elevation, the final mile wound through a deep canyon created by a low flowing creek.

We arrived at McDonald's just in time to enjoy a breakfast, let the meal digest, and go back for seconds in lunch fashion. Most of us fared well, only spending $10-15 However, the two texans (The Mayor and Sir Richard Wizard) ate in such large quantities that both were whimpering in agonizing pain when we pulled out.

Due to the 2009 Sheep Fire, the PCT was rerouted to avoid any possible problems that could come as a result of hiking through an un-scouted burn zone. The PCTA had yet to determine the condition of the trail, and the likelihood of falling trees cutting short a hikers dream. The 13.5 mile detour bypassed 12.2 trail miles, placing us at 356.2 trail miles when we reconnect with the PCT. We camped about 1.5 miles short of the point of reconnect.

The first seven miles of the detour (after McDonald's) had an agonizing climb in the heat of midday, but our enormous caloric intake powered us through to Apple White camp, a bizarre green oasis perched in the middle of an otherwise barren wasteland. Resting there, and strangely eating again, we re-grouped.

We looked over the possible routes over the snow-capped Blue Ridge that awaits our arrival tomorrow. After little discussion, we all concluded that hiking three miles off trail tomorrow and hitching into Wrightwood would enable us the opportunity to talk with other hikers about the condition of the trail on the mountain.

We hiked the last few miles of the detour, stopping shy of the reconnect point. We set up camp and had a small campfire and communal dinner before going to bed.
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The Crew

So this is the crew we are rolling with.
General Lee
The Mayor
Uncle Tom
Sir Richard Wizard
(who collectively are called MeGaTex)

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

McDonalds on the Trail

It's one of those rare times when you actually want the calories.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Lakeside Stroll

Day 28-May 11th
Lil Horsethief Canyon
19 Miles

Nothing gets you going in the morning quite like a 3 inch hairy legged spider crawling across your chest.

After Apricots and I had a warm oatmeal breakfast, we began packing our belongings away. In the process, I pulled something out of my backpack, and a large bunch of black string fell out. Looking down to see what it was, I saw an enormous spider crawling across my chest. Being an arachnaphobe, I screamed a little. Apricots, being the darling she is, decided she was going to save me from the spider. But, once she saw the ungodly size of it, she told me I was on my own. Two quick brushes to the chest sent it flying out of the tent.

After the adrenaline rush, we packed up our tent, making sure there was no spider in it. Then we started our hike. The morning light struck small lakes on the nearby valley in such a way that they glowed completely white. It seemed as if I was looking at a photo with a hole torn in the middle of it. After skirting some hills, we went over a saddle, and were offered a view of Silverwood Lake.

For the next five miles, we meandered around the perimeter of the lake. Around 11am, Apricots suggested we go down for a swim, so we went down to the water when we had a chance. While we never actually took a dip, it was a nice relaxing 3-hour lunch complete with nap and bird song.

After lunch we climbed over a hill, and then took a four mile long gradual descent to where we now camp. Today was easy. Tomorrow we have a rare treat to fast food before making a fierce climb up the mountain (complete with fire detour). Sausage and Egg Mcmuffins will invade my dreams.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

300 Mile Hotspring

Day 27-May 10th
Grass Valley Creek
20 miles

We woke this morning to cold temperatures again. So far, we have been pretty fortunate with our desert walking. I am willing to handle cold mornings if it means cool days.

Our walk this morning was a very nice grade, generally sloping downhill as it followed the contours of the hillside. Deep Creek was down hill from us, at times 100 feet or more nearly straight down. As we walked along the decomposed granite, we could hear the churning water below. Occassionally, we would follow the contours away from the creek, and it seemed as though someone had turned the volume down on the speakers playing the ambient meditation sounds of a stream.

Shortly after we started hiking today, we passed the 300 mile mark. As if on cue, we passed Deep Creek Hot Springs a few miles later. What better way to celebrate hiking 300 miles than a nice soak in warm water. We dropped our packs, shed our boots, and hopped into one of the pools. Of course we did not dunk our heads, because the guidebook warns of "a very rare, microscopic amoeba (that) has caused deadly amoebic meningoencephalitis." It would seem the amoeba likes to enter the body through the nose, so we chose not to submerge our heads.

After a good rest in late morning, we returned to the rocky tread high above Deep Creek. Momentarily dropping down to cross a beautiful bridge and traversing to the north side of the stream. As we climbed back up to the high canyon walls, we had a clear view of Mt. Baden-Powell.

Tracing the canyon walls, adorned with hundreds of spray-painted tags claiming "rights" to the area, we made our short flat hike to a over-sized dam. As we walked along the base of the dam, the wind began to pick up, and we could see a wall of sand heading to hit us. We walked the mile with sandy grit whipping our skin and getting in our eyes and mouth.

Shortly after we reached the crossing of Deep Creek the wind picked up. I had a minor stomach ache over the last couple miles, so with the wind, it was a difficult end to an otherwise beautiful day. Skirting willows and cottonwoods, we soon made our climb out of the canyon.

Our camp was still four miles away, and the wind was beating furiously. Apricots and I just put our heads down and motored through the remainder of the day. Passing chaparrel with our blinders on, we eventually dropped down an old road until we hit Grass Valley Creek.

Here we set up camp, did some laundry in the creek, and ate dinner inside our tent. The wind is howling right now, and the tent is beating furiously with the occasional blast. Hopefully the wind will die down enough that we get some sleep.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Cold Day in the Desert

Day 26-May 9th
Deep Creek Bridge
18 miles

Last night was pretty cold. We had a campfire, and everyone was in rare form (probably due to the short day). The Mayor spent twenty minutes trying to untie a bag of cookies before he gave up and tore it open, to share his sugary bounty with us. Afterwards we all stood close to the fire with our shirts pulled up, warming our bellies.

When we awoke this morning, it was still very cold, but I was expecting a hot day. We were going to walk through an area that was recently burned, so we would have little, if any, shade. As such, Apricots and I got an early start on the day. With gloves, hats, and down coats on, we began our day with a small climb. This put us back in view of Big Bear Lake briefly, as well as a distant view of the still marshmallow white dome of Mt. Baden-Powell which we will be hitting in roughly one week.

After reaching the top of our small climb, we began what would be a day long gradual descent, largely through the scarred remains of a forest fire. As we walked along, the pine covered tread slowly gave way to a simple dirt tread, highlighted in rich black-browns of decaying charred bark. The needleless trees with few limbs gave no resistance to the cold breeze. The temperature was great for walking, but as soon as we stopped moving we had to put on our jackets or huddle behind a large rock.

I have always enjoyed walking through burn zones. It is the closest way to see a full life cycle of a forest. A few tall trees remain untouched, with their bases only charred by a fast moving fire. Other less fortunate trees are reduced to tall blackened towers reminiscent of dark towers found in books by Tolkein and others. Still other trees have lost all their bark, but stand bleached white like over sized toothpicks stuck in a pile of charcoal.

Burnt manzanita reach skyward with hundreds of gnarly crooked fingers, all bone white. Yet, a burn zone, although looking dead, is still very much alive. The first plants are taking hold, laying down the vegetation, and restoring the soil chemistry for secondary plants to start growing. Today, while walking through the burn zone, I saw several varieties of flowers. Ones I have grown accustomed to seeing while walking through the desert.

There were patches of tiny white flowers, smaller than a childs pinky fingernail, scattered a thousand strong, painting a small patch of land white. We saw five petaled fuscia flowers, as well as ones in a rich magenta. The yellow and white flowers were abundant, but the splashes of purple and blue always drew our attention.

Nearing the end of the burn zone, we entered a hillside covered in large granite boulders, similar to the lead up to San Jacinto. We walked over or around these white and rust-red rocks working downhill to Holcomb Creek, where we spent lunch after two knee deep river fords.

I desired an afternoon siesta, but just as I was dozing off, Jackass and Molasses walked up. We had hiked a portion of the first leg with them, but the jumped north to get a southbound walk in to allow for more snow melt time on San Jacinto and the San Gorgonio mountains. We chatted with them for a short bit, and expect to cross paths again in two weeks when they jump back to Agua Dulce.

Parting ways, we crossed Holcomb Creek a third time, before putting on our boots and making the final five miles to our desired campsite. The sky was grey, and our bodies were cold from the wind and stream crossing, so Apricots and I walked faster so we could get to camp soon.

We arrived at a pic-nic shelter late afternoon. Shortly after arriving, we had our sleeping bags out and we ate dinner. Now we are laying in our bags under a small shelter, ready for a short day tomorrow... Or at least a quick walk to some Hot Springs tomorrow.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Warm Bellies

Day 24-May 7th
Big Bear
Zero Trail Miles

(The image of the yellow truck is the fun beast that drove us to town, and back to the trail.)

There is not much to say about zero days. We spend our time in town resting, resupplying, eating, and socializing.

We needed to go to the post office to resupply, so after grabbing a morning coffee, we hit the road with our thumbs. Several minutes later, Osmond picked us up. We had a great talk while we drove to the post office. He said that he would take us back after we were done at the post office. It's rare to find a hitch, where the driver goes out of their way to drive you both directions, and an even rarer find to catch a hitch with such an interesting person. While at the post office, Osmond even offered to take another hiker to a town that was at least an hours drive away.

After he took us to the post office, he drove us to the grocery store where we parted ways. We grabbed some groceries for hiking, and for eating at the hostel.

Later that evening, our crew of seven put together a tasty pasta dinner, and enjoyed some wine. Meanwhile, Apricots busied herself with making her famous cinnamon roles for all the hikers at the hostel. Late in the evening, when the aroma of warm rolls was wafting through the hostel, Apricots said to five unsuspecting hikers, come and get it. Immediately all five stood up.

Michael, a german hiker, said, "vat iz this? It looks many calories," before chowing down on a freshly baked roll.

After dinner, several hikers sat around a campfire, enjoying beer and wine while talking everything trail, and non-trail related.

Also, I would like to point out one other humorous thing.

As people who live in tents without bathrooms, our sleeping is sometimes interrupted by a cold brisk walk at night three feet away from our tents. When you take a thru-hiker who is accustomed to this, and you feed them large quantities of alcohol while staying at a hostel, they are bound to wake in the night to drain excess fluids.

What one does not expect to happen is this:

A thru-hiker who shall go unnamed drank copious amounts of alcohol, only to crash before midnight. (Us hikers have trouble staying up past ten). One can only assume that he felt he was out on the trail, because around 2am, he woke and walked three feet from his bed to relieve himself. Unfortunately, he found another hikers bunk, rather than a toilet.

I am impressed that the sleeping hiker is still talking with the peeing hiker.

Day 25-May 8th
Mile 279ish
13 Trail Miles

This morning we woke at the hostel, with intentions of returning to trail. The Mayor (who received his trail name from doing charitable acts for other hikers, as if he were running for Best Hiker of the year award) made a tasty breakfast to enjoy with the few remaining cinnamon rolls.

At ten, the seven of us piled into the yellow beast, and drove back to the trail, with rested bodies, full bellies, and heavy packs. Back at the trail, we thanked our trail angel for helping us out, and we began our casual saunter down the trail.

Our day was planned short, because we are setting ourselves up to arrive at some hot springs midday monday, so we can play in the cool river and warm springs during the heat of the day. With the short day, we did not feel a need to rush our miles. We made a slow easy climb from the highway through pinyons until we crested the hill. From there our hike took us across very simple grade, until we dropped down to Van Duysen Road, where a small stream ran down the hill.

We took lunch there, and rested, knowing that we were only planning on doing five or six more miles on the day. After a decent lunch hour (naptime pictures above), we donned our packs and made a small climb out of Van Duysen canyon. On the way out, we ran into Unbreakable, No Trace, and Billy Goat, three hikers we met in the first week. They bounced north to hike southbound to allow more time for snow to melt in the San Jacintos.

We shared quick stories, and then were on our way. Our hike ran a hillside paralleling Big Bear Lake, before dropping away into leafless Oak trees. The setting sun showered golden light through the trees casting freckled shadows upon our path.

Around six we set up camp, where we shared our meals over a communal dinner next to the campfire. Later in the evening, we all stood close by, to warm ourselves by the heat of the fire.

I love these low mileage days.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Video of Photos over first 180 miles

Sorry the quality is bad, I just wanted to get some more images out for people to see.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Day 23-May 6th
Destination: Hwy 18-Big Bear City
Miles: 266

Wanting to get into to town at a decent hour today, to ensure a room at the hostel, Apricots and I woke early. As we left Coon Creek Jumpoff, we climbed into Jeffrey Pines, white fir, and mahogany. We continued to have excellent view of the snow capped San Gorgonio Peak. Looking south, we could also see the still white San Jacinto we hiked past several days ago.

The early morning was cold and silent, save the occasional wood strikes of some early rising wood peckers, and the roar of a lion.

Wait, what?! A lion?

Yes, as we passed Onyx Peak, we also passed a lion, and some bears, and some tigers. Sure they were in a cage, but it completely threw us off to hear a lion roaring in the mountains. Apparently, we were walking past some animal cages, where a trainer works with large predatory animals for use in Hollywood films. For more information, take a look at:

After passing the bear cages, which seemed rather small, and very depressing, we continued to make our descent toward Big Bear. After coming across a mini-zoo in the middle of the wilderness, we were willing to expect anything.

...And the trail delivered. As we rounded a bend, we came across a couch two feet off the trail. It wasn't just a couch, it was a couch with a view. The trail angel had placed coolers with soda, water, fruit, and cookies next to the sofa. Directly in front of the couch ten feet, they hung a window frame between two trees. From the couch you could sit, and look upon an excellent view of San Gorgonio.

After a peaceful rest, and a large soda, we started our walk out of the pines, descending into the more familiar desert conditions of sagebrush, and some of our first Joshua Trees. With the occasional glimpse of Baldwin Lake, we made our descent to the nearing Highway 18, our hitch to Big Bear.

We left the pinyon pines, and large incense-ceders, and found ourselves exposed to the sun again. Fortunately, the day was nearing its end, and we reached highway 18. We pulled a number from one of the water caches, and gave the guy a call. Twenty minutes later, seven of us crawled into the back of a large yellow Unimaug and headed to Big Bear Hostel.

Ten days of hiking... Time for a zero.
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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de miles

Day 22-May 5th
Destination: Coon Creek Jumpoff
Miles: 246

After yesterdays heat, we all rose early today. We had a tough but fun day ahead of us. Today we were going up Mission Creek Canyon. We were also shooting to climb close to 6000 feet in elevation, to regain much of what we lost coming down from Black Mountain Road to Interstate 10.

Rising early we started our climb up Mission Creek. The ascent up the low flowing creek allowed us over 25 crossings as we bounced between the east and west sides of the small canyon. While some can get irritated by the numerous crossings, I enjoyed the constant demand on my brain. Finding the appropriate rock hopping path across the creek can keep the mind from getting bored (which lends itself to harder hiking).

The canyon offered us great shade late into the day, limiting the amount of sun exposure. Our ascent through the granite gorge was filled with alder, willow and cottonwood, interrupted by various cacti and yucca plants.

Reaching an elevation of nearly 6000 feet, and leaving Riverside County for San Bernadino County, we began seeing the incense-cedars, and Jeffrey pines that generate a softer tread for walking on. The trail continued to climb, as it crossed a few quartzite rockslides, which generate a strange sense of music underfoot, as the rocks grind across one another, one can almost picture the sounds mimicking a symphonic orchestra tuning up for a rehearsal.

We continued our ascent to Mission Creek Trail Camp, where we planned to do lunch. At this point we had already gained a little over 4000 feet, which can be tiresome in one go. I decided to lift everyone's spirits a little. I fabricated a story about the history of Mission Creek. I went into a detailed story of Father Uza, a missionary who assisted on the transcontinental railroad. After being discollared by the vatican for stealing alcohol, he retreated to these hills, where he and a collective of follows sought spiritual enlightenment through alcohol consumption.

At this point, I pulled out a bottle of tequila, a lime, and salt, that I had hidden in my bag for the last few days. I wished everyone a happy Cinco De Mayo. We passed the bottle around, taking shots in turn. This was made even better by the fact that Apricots had said earlier, "man, I would have sacrificed some food weight to have a little tequila for the holiday."

After lunch and shots we looked over the next leg, which was said to have steep snow chutes. We knew that crossing the chutes in the morning would be dangerous, so we opted for trying to get as much done as possible today. We packed up our bags and continued our climb into the mountains.

Reaching an elevation of over 8500 feet, we were given excellent views of San Gorgonio peak between the pine trees. As the sun was setting, wind picked up, and we were getting cold. Unfortunately any decent flat spot was fairly exposed, and would result in a very noisy cold evening. Besides, several of us agreed to hike all the way to Coon Creek Jumpoff, where it was rumored to have a shelter.

Making a gradual descent down a road to where we planned to camp, we found a note from Uncle Tom. Apparently there was a shelter. Apricots, Train, The Mayor and I were delighted to find a large cabin with a plume of smoke billowing out of a chimney. Once inside we dropped our bags and treated ourselves to a double dinner, as we had excess food.

Shelter tonight, steady downhill walk tomorrow. It's great how the days unfold with magic all about.
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No swimming until 30 minutes after you eat (or seven miles)

Day 21-May 4th

Just in case you needed to be told, sleeping under an interstate highway, next to train tracks is not a great idea. I slept so so, but Apricots slept quite poorly. In the middle of the night, she woke me, and asked that we move away from the noise. We grabbed our bags and pads and moved 50 yards away from the freeway. It wasn't much, but it definitely helped.

Despite wanting to rise early, and beat the heat, our general lack of sleep made us move slower in the morning. Once moving, the hot sun was already beating down. We made a slow gradual ascent into the Mesa Wind Farm. The large wind turbines spun hypnotically with a steady whir-whir-whir with each turn. Each turbine can power roughly 30 houses, and this wind farm had roughly 400 turbines.

As we neared the office, we debated whether to stop in and say hi. They offered shade and water, but the day was young, and we were hydrated. Almost passing them by, Uncle Tom suggested we go in. Free water is free water you did not have to carry.

Once we arrived at the office, we were told showers were also available, and they had a large supply of inexpensive food to buy. Our eyes lit up, and we ate our way through Pizza, Burritos, Breakfast Croissants, and Klondike Ice Cream treats, while each of us took our turn at the shower.

The timing of such a treat left us in a bad spot, as we were leaving into the hot desert midday. We could wait out the heat, and run up a food tab for four hours, or we could cut our unexpected treat short, and get more miles in before the serious heat arrived. We chose to hit the trail, but not without buying some more food to take with us.

We re-entered the heat, and I suffered. I spent so much time eating, my belly was too full for proper hydration. I walked, or rather stumbled, my way across the desert. The views were stunning, but I was beat. Fortunately, a large stream was only seven miles down the trail.

When we arrived, we dropped our packs at the largest shade patch we could find, which was small, and under a very harsh plant. Its twigs of spikes could penetrate the soles of our shoes and stab our feet, so we had to be careful about where we laid down.

Since the shade was small, and I was hot, we grabbed our dirty clothes, wash basin, water filter, and bottles and walked back to Whitewater River. From there, we washed our sweat off, drank water, and cleaned our clothes. The water temperature was just warm enough to play in, but cool enough to offer a welcome break from the heat.

By the time we were done, our shade patch had grown large enough for two people to lay out. Apricots and I took a nap to wait out the heat of the day. Our microwaveable burritos cooked under the sun, carefully perched upon a cactus.

Around four we packed up our gear and started the climb from Whitewater canyon to Mission Creek. Apparently we are at a latitude and location of the southernmost glaciation during the ice age, and looking at the landscape, you can almost picture a time when it was overrun with glaciers.

The last six miles of the day was a true crest walk. After we made our climb to the ridge, we were given amazing views down both sides of the ridge. You could see everything that we had hiked today, plus what we will be hiking tomorrow. It was a complete 360 degree panorama of amazing scenes.

After riding the ridge for around six miles, we dropped down to Mission Creek and set up camp. Tomorrow we get to hike up Mission Creek canyon.

In the distance, wearing yellow is General Lee. In the middle ground is The Mayor, with his brother Richard Wizard to the right. Apricots is doing laundry in the foreground.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

200 Miles Down to Hell

Day 20-May 3rd

Some days on the trail are rough, because of temperature.

Some days on the trail are rough, because of the terrain.

Some days because of tread, overgrowth, water...

Very seldom does a day hit you that has everything to offer you that you loath. Today was that day, but we are still in high spirits. As you can see in the photo, we have passed the two hundred mile mark. That averages to only ten miles a day, but we have had six zero days...and we are in no rush to get to the heavily snowed in Sierras.

This morning when we woke (at a camp which was the highest in elevation, yet), the snow melt had frozen over, and our bodies shivered to motivate movement. As we started our descent, we hit a few icy snow patches on dangerous chutes that did not appeal to us, so we hiked around them, at times climbing several feet uphill to avoid them.

As we dropped, the snow slowly disappeared, and the pine duff tread gave way to the more common grit of granite. The sugar pine trees gave way to the manzanitas. The cool mountain air gave way to the hot arid desert air.

The descent of over 6000 feet was spread over a very annoying 15 miles. The entire day offered us unblocked views to the valley floor, yet the trail somehow failed to understand that we wanted to get off the mountain, and move to the next. It meandered aimlessly, or so it seemed, back and forth making us walk a mile just to lose forty feet in elevation.

Generally, we understand and appreciate the need for switchbacks, and proper trail grading. This, however, seemed to be the result of two trail crews battling over who could make the most annoying trail. One started at the top, the other at the bottom, and the joined at the midpoint of our hiking day.

Add the fatigue of the jarring descent, to the unrelenting sun and heavy plant overgrowth, and its easy to start to understand our frustration for the day. But, despite our frustration, we were happy to hit the 200 mile benchmark, as well as finish section B of the trail.

After waiting out the 100 plus degree heat of the day, in a patch of shade smaller than a pint sized lap dog, we made the final descent to I-10, located directly on the San Andreas fault, and serving as the dividing point between section B and section C.

Looking forward to making movement across nearly flat land, after the heat of the sun died, we were sorely disappointed when we were greeted with high winds. Generally wind is fun, but wind combined with sandy trail tread results in dirt in the eyes, and gritty mouths.

Now for some ridiculous reason, we are choosing to sleep under a freeway, next to some train tracks. This should be exciting.

Psycho: Let's play a game to pass the time
Apricots: Ok
Psycho: I spy with my little eye, something that sucks
Apricots: Is it this portion of the trail?

--but when all is said and done, we are still happy...made happier still by the coolers of fresh fruit, veggies, chips, and soda left under the freeway by a kind trail angel.

We now sleep at the lowest point on the PCT, south of the Columbia River crossing from Oregon to Washington.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Jumping Fuller

Day 19-May 2nd

After cramming seven stinky hikers into one small rundown room, the walls were saturated with the smell of wet socks, and the shower saw its yearly supply of dirt in one night.

Apricots woke early, and I soon followed. She and I went to breakfast with Uncle Tom, and started discussing our options. We had about five reasonable options, but only two were really being considered:
1. Take a zero and attack Fuller Ridge tomorrow
2. Skip 11.8 miles of the trail, and rejoin the PCT via Black Mountain Road.

Ultimately, attacking Fuller Ridge meant more snow navigating, and more icy snow chutes to brave across. Unlike our first leg, we had no knowledge of the trail conditions, other than reports from a time prior to last weeks snow fall, and this weeks light precipitation.

A report from 16 days ago ultimately said, "Don't risk it! Unless you like the idea of being miserable and dying."

Not really being a fan of dying, we all agreed to skip a portion of the trail and head up Black Mountain Road. Coincidentally, this is the same course of action I ceded to last time through. As such, Apricots and I plan to do our best to get back here and do this section which we hear is stunning.

After milling about town, building our resupply, and enjoying a beautiful day in Idyllwild, we returned to our "job." It's not a bad job, we enjoy it. We rise with the sun, and "commute" across the land as the sun "commutes" across the sky. We visit the office snack room when we open our packs, and we hand in our power point presentations when we release the shutters on our cameras. And the view is spectacular. It's been said that, "Our office is Your desktop background."

At 2pm, David Ledbetter (a very accommodating Trail Angel) made two runs up to Black Mountain Road to drop the seven of us off. From there it was an eight mile dirt road walk back up to the PCT. While we our walking from Mexico to Canada, we don't exactly enjoy road walks. The compacted dirt or paving is very tiresome on our joints. Add that to the fact that it's our first day out of town so our packs our heavy, and the climb is a few thousand feet.

Needless to say, we were delighted when someone driving a jeep yelled at us that he had a key to the locked gate, and he would be willing to unlock the forest service gate and drive us to the top. Elated we turned around and started to walk to the jeep. Then he said, "Oh?! They changed the lock, never mind, I can't drive you up."

Crushed, we returned to our long uphill march, knowing that every foot in elevation gain we put on today, was equal to three feet of elevation loss tomorrow. Tomorrow we drop around 6000 feet in elevation.

We reached the PCT shortly after 5pm, and set up tents on the closed road, as it was the only flat spot in the area. Coincidentally, our camping spot is at a Viewpoint which looks out over the valley 6000 feet below. We sat on the rocks overlooking tomorrows descent while we cooked dinners and watched the sun set.

Tomorrow we leave the cold wet mountains and return to the hot dry desert.
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The Adventure Begins Where The Plans End

Day 18-May 1st

The wind had died down around midnight, or shortly after that. A nighttime view of Palm Springs greeted us when nature called, and the warm eastern sun beat on our tents, until we were actually too warm to lay in our bags.

At 7am, we rose slowly and packed our bags. Once all our gear was stowed, we made the steep half mile ascent from Apache Springs back to the PCT. As our seven person collective met back at the trail, we chose to go over Apache Peak, rather than around it. We had heard of the dangers of going around the mountain, and the top was free of snow.

As we passed over the saddle between the two peaks of Apache Peak, we were offered a great view of the trail we would be spending the first half of our day on. In the distance you could see Antsell Rock, Spy Mountain, and Tahquitz Peaks. We had our day cut out for us, skirting around these high points.

As we dipped into the shaded watersheds, the snow piled up. Apricots was given her first opportunity to experience snow on the PCT. The trail cut across snow patches that offered opportunities to slip a hundred feet before crashing into a tree, if you were lucky. Uncle Tom (who looks like David Carradine, and sometimes sounds like Christopher Walken) led the first couple snow crossings, using his boots to help cut steps across the sixty plus degree slopes.

Despite the well cut steps by several hiking mates, the crossing of these slopes was frightening at best. I believe that snow chutes and rattlesnakes are natures energy bar. If you see either, you become so amped with adrenaline, you no longer feel the need to eat.

The day consisted of bouncing over and back the ridge, slowly working our way towards Red Tahquitz, one of several prominent peaks of the San Jacinto's. The top is a rich red granite, setting it apart from the typical grey granite of its close by neighbor Tahquitz Peak. Native legend tells of a feared chief that was caught killing off the women of the tribe. Banished to the hills, he still took the lives of his old tribe. An epic battle between Algoot and Tahquitz resolved nothing, and his spirit is still said to be at a state of unrest in the mountains.

Pictured below is a view of Red Tahquitz from where we enjoyed lunch. As we rounded Red Tahquitz, the trail disappeared under three feet of snow. Fortunately the terrain had somewhat leveled out, so we were able to walk free of terror. At times we even slid down small slopes of snow as if we were on skis.

As we navigated the three to four miles to Saddle Junction, Apricots was treated to a surprise visit from a red insect amid a field of white. The ladybug landed on her and rested a moment before carrying on her way. Our pace slowed over the snow, and we were all starving, as the snow crossing can be very draining on the body.

After an arduous day, we finally reached the Devils Slide Trail, and hiked the 2.5 miles down to the trail head. Once down, we road walked part of the way into Idyllwild, until a friendly driver responded to our thumbs. Before dropping gear and showering, we were in a mexican restaurant plowing through chips and salsa, on our way to flautas, tostadas, burritos, and other culinary delights.

The servings were large, and we were impressed as The Mayor helped polish off four over-sized plates. Known for his voracious appetite, The Mayor has been known to eat small children that get in the way of his fierce consumption.
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Saturday, May 1, 2010

It is almost like Christmas in April

Day 17th-April 30th

The wind is blowing, the temperature is near freezing, and I am very cold. We are camped at Apache Springs, which, due to a fire sometime in the last five years, is now very exposed

But what a beautiful day.

We slept in this morning. Because of last nights snow flurries, I expected to wake to a very cold morning. This was not the case. By the time I had crawled out of the tent, General Lee had a morning fire cooking pop tarts under the giant Gold-Cup Oak tree. The outside temperature was warm enough to shed the thermal under layer, and hike in a short sleeve shirt.

We made our one mile ascent from Live Oak springs back to the PCT, where we continued to climb in elevation. Our hike was bordering on perfect. The day was short, the temperature was cool enough to keep us from sweating, but warm enough to keep us from shivering, and the sights were unbelievable.

All day the trail was skirting the ridge line, keeping what little wind we had off of our bodies. As we gained elevation, we could see and hear the effects of last nights precipitation. Virtually every tree and plant was covered in ice on the windward side.

As we hiked down the corridor of manzanitas and oaks, you could hear the crackle of the ice, as the sun broke each leaf free of its frozen crystal coat. At times, we were passing under taller trees and small flaky ice cubes would fall between our packs and our backs, sending an icy chill down our spine.

The coulter pine trees, while coated in ice, looked like the store bought "Frosted Christmas Trees." The day had a strange sense of timelessness. Recent fires had killed many plants, and some of the deciduous trees were still leafless. We were left with a feeling that we could not tell what time of year it was.

Our plan for the day called for a scant nine miles, which meant setting up camp around one or two in the afternoon. This very short day resulted in an addition of 3.5 miles after we arrived at camp. Fobes saddle was fairly exposed to the wind and the day was still young, so we carried on to Apache Springs.

This campsite, while more exposed than Fobes Saddle, does have water, and leaves us with a shorter day tomorrow, which is good, considering we will be navigating through snow.

In the image you can see the snow/ice crystals on the pine trees in the foreground. The snowy mountain in the background is the challenge for tomorrow (and possibly Sunday as well).
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