In the morning Vincent and I jump up when the first day hiker arrive in their cars. We head back into town to shower at the campsite. I get a room for the next night, eat a bunch, catch up with a few other hikers and make arrangements with Steve to get a ride out the next day.
Stormtrooper shows up with Patches and we have a good breakfast and dinner together. Looks like Patches found a new hiking partner in a gal named Jenny. He does ski patrol in the Winter in Utah, she does the same in Vail, Colorado. Both want to do bigger miles. They seem to be hitting it off.
Meanwhile Stormtrooper is getting that “look”. That boy is ready to turn on the afterburners. It was fun hiking with him in the early stages, but I think my timing for leaving the trail is a good one. I’d never keep up. I look forward to hearing from him as he crushes the miles ahead.
As for me, I accomplished everything I set out to do. I did my 180 miles and got back into the swing of things. My pace was about 2.5 days faster than last time, averaging ~18 miles a day. I’m pretty confident I can finish this thing when I get to Oregon. I’ve a nice bonus of meeting a bunch of folks that I will likely run into in Oregon. It will be nice to see some of them again.
That said, I made a list of stuff I need to ponder before I hit the trail in July. Among them are:
– A busted Sternum strap on my pack
– My water bladder / filter / hose setup is a mess
– I might need to switch to a lighter pack and tent. I don’t need all the carrying capacity my current pack has.
– New foam pad. The one I have is getting pretty ratty
– A smaller battery with more USB ports. 20000 MaH is overkill
– My earbud and spotify music stuff is not working
– My iPhone’s front glass is starting to crack
– A few meal augmentation ideas (bacon jerky is amazing, need some starbursts, some kind of fruity dry powder to improve my water on evening meals, etc)
I’ll deal with all that in June before I start. See you on the Trail !
Packed, filled up a few bottles of water and headed uphill with Patches. The climb out was some work and I quickly fell behind. Stormtrooper caught up and passed me. We agreed to meet in town later that night. He’s hiking with Patches today.
The trail followed last night’s script of skirting the ridgeline until around 165 where it turns into a ledge along a steep granite drop off. Scree is everywhere. This is the most Sierra like trail I have seen in SoCal. Along the way I met Mr Giant Rattler sitting on the trail. I really started him when I turned the corner. He flips all over himself trying to get get reoriented to face me all freaked out shaking his rattle. In the end, he turned out to be cooperative, slowly slithering away uphill while I edged closer. It was interesting. He would give me a rattle or two when I got too close, all the while climbing up the steep hill. Eventually I had enough clearance and ran by while he made racket.
Climbing up a long switchback section, I saw a couple hikers coming up below me. I was making a good pace and figured they’d catch up in 30 to 45 minutes. I was shocked that 5 minutes later a gal is barking an urgent “excuse me”. I jumped out of the way and the couple passed me at a fast walk heading up hill. They disappeared a few minutes later, never breaking their pace. I found out later that they were trying to yoyo the trail in 150 days ! They want to go from Mexican border to Canada, turn around, and come back for a total of ~5,300 miles. Wow.
After that I encountered the rock slide everyone’s been talking about. I should have taken a picture, it was scary. There was a frayed rope attached on both sides to help, but basically I was scooting along a giant fallen rock that was lodged in the ledge over a 500 foot drop. After that there were a bunch of huge trees to climb over, some of which are slick and pointed downhill over said ledge. It all went well, but caution was pretty important.
I lapped some more new hikers today. Mostly kids. I heard at Paradise Cafe that a big bubble of hikers passed through a couple days ago. They are one of the party groups who are maxing out their town days with alcohol. Seems to be affecting their pace a bit 🙂
A few miles before Saddle Junction I ran into Vincent and we hiked together one / off. We met up at Saddle Junction and took the 3 mile route down Devil’s slide into town. This was some serious downhill. Great for me since I’m done after this. Not so great for Vincent cuz he has a 3k climb out. When we arrived at the trail head, with lots of day hikers were running around. I talked to a few, hoping to set their mind at ease in case they happened upon us during the road walk into town. It worked out as we picked up a hitch a little while later.
Arriving into town at 7, Vincent and I made a bunch of calls only to find out that the all the rooms were taken and the campground was full. We finally decided to duck into a burger / bar place to eat and figure out our next step. Our only option was a $600 airbnb booking. I drank a couple beers and was pondering our fate over dinner when the Karaoke festivities started up.
I call Stormtrooper to find out where he is and he’s like “I called ahead and their are no rooms”. Yeah, no kidding. He and Patches are camping on the trail near the bottom of devil’s slide.
Vincent is an interesting dude. He is Asian from NYC and has never been out West. Never been much of anywhere as far as I can tell. Somehow, he decided to change up his life and gave up his apartment, loaded up his SUV, and headed to Arizona to park it for 6 months. His ambiguous plan after the trail is to “roam around sleeping in his car”. He hasn’t told his family. Wish I could be a fly on the wall when that message is delivered.
Anyway, sitting there listening to the locals doing a poor job singing 80’s songs isn’t getting us anywhere. We both decide that Tequila shots might help. And it does! After the first round, 10+ hikers show up from bar hopping and proceed to join the Karaoke party. Gormet is there with Skids and Late Start. We spend some time catching up and I buy a few more rounds of Tequila shots for the reunion. I can’t convince anyone to share floor space in their rooms, and these folks can’t sing any better than the locals, but we do have a pretty good time.
Eventually, Vincent and I decide it is time to do some stealth camping. We head out to a trail head a mile out of town stumbling along talking about life. He’s a good guy. I think he made the right decision to leave NYC behind and try something new. Hopefully I’ll run into him again sometime. Anyway, we reach the spot, plow through a few bushes and cowboy camp on a flat spot. 20 miles of hiking + 4 extra miles of hiking/town walking and half dozen tequila shots insures I have a good nights sleep.
I told ST last night that today would be a late start which turned out to be a little after 7. We packed and headed down to the water tank to load up for the ~6 miler to Paradise Cafe. Mary is the gal responsible for this water stop. She has built up the area a bit more than I remember in ’17. A few picnic benches, lots more water storage, and an expanded book library. Mary was there in the morning so I got the chance to thank her.
Chatted up a few of the hikers milling around then headed out. Nice cool hike to Paradise exit, then a 1 mile roadwalk. ST and I got a table outside and settled in. Shortly after, Patches turned up together with a gal named Artemis. Artemis started on April 27th (!?!) and has been hiking 10 to 12 miles a day. Nice gal and good attitude, but she’s going to need to step up the mileage soon.
Splinter, Graceland and Vincent also turned up a bit later. I gorged on a huge burger, several Radlers, and tied it off with some Apple pie. It was heaven. We all busted out around 2:00 eyeing Live Oak Spring as our next stop.
Patches, Graceland, and Artemis left first, starting the 1 mile walk back to the trail. I thought I’d try my luck with the waitress first asking her how hard it would be to get a hitch. She thought for a moment, then said “well I can give you a lift”. Hah! Not only am I exceeding my mileage goals, but my Yogi (i.e. begging) skills are warming up.
On the way out, we saw the French gal we talked to the night before walking in. The waitress gal will pick her up on the way back. So now we are 15 minutes ahead of Patches. Storm and I were laughing about that…we know he is going ot be pissed.
This section of the trail is new to me. It was closed in ’17. The climb is substantial, we go from 5k to 8k+ in a little over 6 miles.
I cut StormTrooper loose after climbing a bit telling him it was going to be a slow day for me. Took my time. Along the way I ran into about a dozen hikers in several groups that I had not met previously. Apparently we have jumped ahead into the next bubble of hikers. Nice folks, though they clearly prefer to remain tight in their new trail families. The cliques are forming.
After the major part of the climb, I was hiking up and down along a ridge line until the cutoff to Live Oak. The San Jacinto foot hills form a single barrier between the low flat basin to the west and the equally low and flat basin to the east (Palm Springs). On every saddle between the west and east sides, the wind was ferocious. All the level tent sites I saw along the way looked really exposed. Near Live Oak I ran into several groups setting up there, but one look at the permanent bent over trees next to their campsite told me a story of big wind gusts slapping their tents around.
Fortunately or not, the trail to Live Oak Springs and the only water on this stretch is a long 1 mile hike downhill on the east side. Just as I was about to head down guess who shows up? Patches. There is no “Hi howyadoin”. The first words out are: “How the F&^k did you get ahead of me?” Well young man, you need to learn the art of begging !!!!
We arrived around 8 and it was getting pretty dark. Bunch of folks setup camping. Some lady showed me around, cautioning me not to camp under the “widow makers” as she called them (i.e. Dead Trees). Well they took all the other spots, so I told her I’d have to take my chances. She wanted to argue about that which I dismissed by throwing my bag down and unpacking. Lady disappeared. Found Stormtrooper and we caught up for a few minutes. Patches was still grumbling about coming in last. Almost a 15 miler today with 3+ hours of lounge time in the cafe.
The views from last nights spot are amazing. Had a good nights sleep and awoke to StormTrooper sleeping in a bit. He’s oddly happy with his spot.
I pull down the tent and pack for the journey to Mikes Place. StormTrooper gets motivated and is packed around the same time. I’ve been regaling him with stories of “Desert People”. Today he gets to meet some of them first hand. He’s not sure what he’s in for, but pretty excited. He will not be disappointed.
We walk together through some easy terrain to 127.3. There it is a small side trail past the water tanks to Mike’s Place. We walk in and are greeted by Waters and Medicine Man who are taking a couple of zeros there. The caretaker is out so Waters shows us around. We grab a couple warm beers and join them on the shady back deck to relax and chat.
Medicine Man is a 60 something experienced hiker who is laid up with a foot injury. He is awaiting a ride from Waters friend tomorrow after which he will heal up and meet Waters back on the trail further North. These two are pretty interesting guys. Waters is retired Air Force who is doing logistics consulting for the armed services. He’s the contractor who helps set up bases in various armpits of the world. Medicine Man is Navy who spent his later years in electronic warfare systems for the navy’s AEGIS destroyers and cruisers. We spend the afternoon geeking out on various war stories.
Spirit was the last caretaker and did a pretty good job of running the place. Well Spirit left the day before we arrived and handed it over to a “friend” of his. The guys keep warning me that this gal, Alice, is an odd one. They are not kidding. When she turns up later in the morning with half-assed supply run, she starts running around barking semi-coherent requests about cleaning the place up, cooking breakfast with a handful of eggs and some random veggies, while saying how much she loves you. Her jeans keep falling off her waist revealing a unflattering view of her wrinkly emancipated butt crack.
Through trial and error I learned how to stay mostly out of her focus, so I can carry on my chat with my new friends on the back deck. So we have a decent afternoon chatting with occasion interruptions from Alice. My tipping point is reached around 3pm when she thrusts 3 potatoes into my hands and asks me to make dinner. I pass that one off to Bryan and Gourmet who are more enthusiastic.
I have to give StormTrooper credit, he hangs out taking it all in. He mostly hangs with the younger folks and gets extra duty with Alice’s Meth induced visions of order. Joe, a psychiatrist, is not so lucky. Joe asks Alice too many questions after which she lights him up calling him Mr Inquisitive. Joe runs away trying to join my group, but Alice follows him maniacally shouting obscenities. Exit Joe. I’ll never know his clinical assessment.
Bryan and Gourmet managed to make their evening meal which is a soup made from the 3 potatoes, a few other vegatables, and a half-eaten chicken they boiled to make broth. It taste like good effort…..I make a Mountain House on my stove. Bryan seems bummed at my decision.
At 4, Storm and I decided we’ve had enough fun. I’ve been working him on the idea that this next stretch sucks and that we need to night hike it. There is little water and what little there is will taste like ass or worse. Think dead varmints floating in a dirty pit. He’s game, but the other folks in our loose group are unconvinced. They want to do 5 to 8 miles more and camp.
He and I pull out, passing Anthony and Bryan who have picked up a couple of stray gals (Amy and Powerbutt). They seem to want to stay together so Storm and I leave them behind. The hike through the remaining daylight is uneventful. We pass Vincent who is camping around 130 and hang out with some French gal around 8 while making some dinner. After that we are on headlamps.
Night hiking through the desert is one of the best parts of hiking Southern California, in my opinion. The temps are cool but not cold. The sky is clear with tons of stars. It is super quiet. Plus you run into a bunch of weird critters doing there night desert thing. We saw a huge jack rabbit that we followed with our headlamps for a bit. I came over a ridge and spotlighted a set of orange eyes looking at us from a bolder. It ran off making some kind of screetching sound (it was probably a bobcat, not sure). Then there was this guy.
This stupid bird was sitting in on the trail and would not move. I squatted down like 12 inches away and the thing starts hissing at me. Wow. That bird had some stones. It was the size of an orange acting like it owned the trail. We finally nudged it and it flew away.
Later in the evening a heavy helicopter flies by at low altitude shining a spot light on the trail and surrounding hillsides. We shut our headlamps off and just watched it for a while. Never found out what that was all about. Like I said, night hiking is awesome !!!
Around 11, I was nearing the end of my tank. I was stumbling way to much and generally getting sloppy with my foot and pole placement. We still had another 4 miles to go for our goal and I knew Storm really wanted it. Hell I wanted it. So I took a few more breaks, ate a bunch of trail mix, and pulled on the body reserves. Actually speeded up a bit for the last ups and downs making 145.4’s water cache a little after Midnight. We found a spot near the water tank, setup and went to sleep. I got my 25 miler today, Hell Ya!
The morning begins with Storm and me heading out early. Took a couple pictures of “eagle rock” and kept rocking until the road to Warner Springs gas station at 109.5. The community center is closed to hikers during weekdays this year. I thought it had something to do with Covid, but some day hiker gal I spoke with said it was due to semi-naked hikers running around while the elementary school was in session across the street. Guess some Mom didn’t like it. It is too bad the place is closed to us, I had a good time when I stopped there in ’17.
Storm and I road walked the 1 mile to the gas station, getting there before 10. There a nice picnic table setup in the shade near the station. Bunch of hikers there already and a stream of others come in while we are there.
Lot of folks are picking up resupply boxes. Endless and QB seem to have their resupply dialed in. Queensland is (un)dialed. He seems to have twice as much stuff as he needs and is ditching all sorts of things. Unfortunately, there’s no Burbon. Powerbutt (that’s her new proposed name) is also over-supplied and Bryan offers to take one of her custom dehydrated meals. Others are resupplying from whatever they can find in the gas station.
As for me, I just keep going back and buying gatorades, beers, and hotdogs. I still have plenty of Mountain house meals. Which is an interesting segway into the benefits of packing those meals. They are simple to pack, light, and (for the most part) inclusive of all the nutrition I need. I’m really sold on the mountain house meal program. It gets the job done with simplicity. Anyway, I buy a few kudos and candy bars for my resupply and am ready to go.
StormTrooper i also ready to bolt. After I take a lenghty break in the bathroom, I head out with StormTrooper. He wants to go back to our exit point on the road and hike the small section that I can bypass with a more direct route. He has to make up 2 extra miles which is fine by me since he needs some place to expend his energy.
I stay ahead of him until I reach a nice little sanctuary by a stream at 114.8. By now it is 1:00 and super hot. StormTrooper and I make ourselves comfortable and await hikers to entertain us. That entertainment takes the form of Gourmet who turns up a few minutes later. He’s a funny dude. After him comes Bryan who stays for a few minutes, then leaves to climb the hill behind us. Splinter turns up to regale us with his folkzy old-guy humor. The guy is almost 70 years old and still hiking like a champ.
Others come and go. Gourmet is getting all agitated because he wants everyone to stay there tonight. He full of reasons, like it is too hot, the ridge won’t be sun exposed in the morning, etc. Eventually I have to break the news that I’m leaving and start hiking. StormTrooper assures me he will be coming behind.
The climb out is just like I remember. The trail follows the stream up hill through a box canyon. While in the canyon, it is shady, green, and full of life. Top the canyon and you are suddenly back in the desert. Dropping into the next canyon and the process repeats, after which it is permanently back to the arid environment. There is a lot of up and down climbing eventually topping out at 4500 feet. The spot we picked out is near some water accessible a few hundred yards off the trail.
Patches catches up to me when I’ve almost finished the climb. We hike in together. We arrive to find Queensland and Bryan (aka Mr Crinkles due to his noisy sleeping pad) hanging around chilling. Bryan starts his dinner while I’m setting up my tent. He is cooking the dehydrated franken-meal he got from Powerbutt. He winds up over-cooking it and burning it into his pot. He is trying to choke it down feeling guilty that he somehow has to eat it because it was a gift. I spend the evening working his guilt, encouraging him to eat every nasty spoonful. So funny.
As the sun is setting Stormtrooper arrives and quickly sets up. He said Gormet kept working him to stay at the previous site. He was almost convinced but finally left at 6. That kid impresses me. He hiked the same distance that took me 4 hours in just under 3. I’m doing the math in my head and know it is just a matter of time before he leaves me in the dust.