Friday, October 1, 2010

Trip Report - Pacific Crest Trail Section A

112 miles from Campo at the Mexican border north to Warner Springs via the Pacific Crest Trail

3/29/2010 Almost ready to go... A few months ago, my wife and I decided we were going to begin section hiking the PCT this year. Our goal is to through hike it some day, but our lives don't currently allow us to be gone for that long!

So...we began adding mileage to our weekend day hikes and doing overnight trips more often. I worked on the ever changing gear list to get exactly what we need and nothing we didn't. You would call us ultra-light hikers I guess...my base weight is about 8lbs and Jene's is about 5lbs. Our goal is to always be comfortable and safe, so minimalists we are not.

We start this coming Saturday, and the anticipation has been building for a long time now. We just completed our last "training" hike yesterday, with full starting pack weights, and clicked off 18 miles in about 7 1/2 hours. You can tell you're ready when this no longer makes your muscles sore.

I just mailed resupply boxes today so we only have to carry 2 days of food at a time. A few more gear tweaks, and we will be on our way!

3/30/2010 Obsessing about gear It seems we all obsess about gear, some more than others (I'm one of the 'more'). We go lighter and lighter until we lose some comfort or convenience, then go back up a little, and try try again. Add two loops to my tent to tie a cloths line across the ridge line +0.05oz. Remove the buckets from my trekking poles, -0.55oz. Remove the brackets that hold the buckets, -0.30oz. Going from my MYOG Heineken Ti wood burning stove/pot to my Ti-Tri Caldera Inferno wood burning stove/pot so I can boil enough water for both wifey and I at a time, +5.25oz (that was a big one for me to swallow). Should we share a toothbrush and save 0.20oz?

These are the things we (I) obsess about for months and months before the trip. Why? One is just the fact that we enjoy the challenge...kind of a competition with each other. But the real reason is that we want to be as comfortable as possible, both on and off the trail. That, and if you have it all figured out before you go, everything just goes smoother when you're out there and there's no need to fuss...everything just works. Those who "get it", the ultralight thing that is, are noticeably happier on the trail, that's for sure. And if they do their homework, they're just as happy off the trail too.

Three more days until we leave for Campo. Not finding much more to tweak now. Getting antsy...two more days of work, then a sleepless night and a long drive.

Is it Friday yet??!!!?!?!

4/01/2010 Last Night at Home Yesterday was my son's 14th birthday...fish tacos, a cake, and a card with a hot chick washing a car. The funny thing was the card was written in Spanish, but it didn't matter. I wish he was going, but it's allot for a kid his age to commit to without other kids going. Not that he couldn't handle it...he's almost an Eagle Scout and has done some pretty tough trips with me.

Last night at home. I've gone through my gear one last time. Everything's good to go. Jene is still out & about at 8:00pm...she's gonna pick up some high calorie food from Roberto's Tacos on her way home. Then she still has to go through her gear list I printed out for her. Alarm will go off early tomorrow so we can get out of here in time to meet trail angels Dan & Esther who are helping us get to the trail head on Saturday.

Rain and snow moistened So Cal last night, meaning we won't need to carry much water. That will make it an even better hike! I thought I would be more antsy by now, but I don't think I'll lose any sleep tonight. I'm ready.

Jene's home now...time to pig out!

4/02/2010 On our way to the trail... We left Vegas at about 7:30 this morning. After a quick stop at Einsteins for breakfast, we were on the road. Exiting the freeway in Temecula, we headed towards Warner Springs. I had forgotten how beautiful it is down here.

After making arrangements to park our car at the ranch, we headed down to the trail, about a mile away. We walked about 3/4 mile SoBo on the PCT before running into Dan & Esther, who had taken advantage of the trip to pick us up and hiked to Eagle Rock and were heading back.

On the way to Alpine, they showed us around the area, including a tricky area in finding Mt Laguna Lodge. They dropped us off at the Ayres Inn and we decided to meet for dinner at 5:30pm. Good food, a couple of beers, and some great conversation. They were the nicest people! I guess that's why we call them trail angels!!!

We found out that Dan is doing a SoBo thru hike of the PCT beginning in June. Some day we will live that dream!

Back at the hotel, taking our last showers for a few days, will get to bed early in preparation for a 5:30am start for the Southern Terminous. Our adventure is about to begin. No wait, I think already has!

4/03/2010 First Day on the Trail (21 miles/10 hours) Dan & Esther picked us up from the hotel at 5:30am. We reached the Southern Terminous around 6:00am. After a few photos, goodbyes, and signing the register, we were on our way. It was pretty light out, but the sun hadn't made it over the horizon yet. The weather was in the 30's, but it warmed up quickly once the sun rose over the clear skies. It was hard to believe we were really finnally here!

We met two guys on the trail that had left late the day before us...Damian from Austrailia, and "Argentina" from all over. Nice guys.

The plan was to camp at mile 16 Hauser Creek, our planned daily average. When we got to Hauser, we caught up to the guys taking a break, and it was only about 2:00pm. We were feeling really good, so after a short break, we started up the big climb towards Lake Morena. Jene had some added incentive to push on...a hot shower and beer at the campground (not necessarily in that order). By the time we got to the top of the climb, I was gassed. I have a tendancy not to eat enough while I hike, and that was what I was feeling. We made the campground at mile 21 by about 4:30pm, checked in and found our site. Then we headed to the store to get a couple things (beer for Jene, Gatoraide for me). Showers felt good, and after a nice hot dinner, we were ready for some sleep. A great first day on the trail!

Jenes thoughts.... So excited to prove to myself I can do whatever I set my mind to!!!! This may not be much for some, but, I never thought a" vacation" like this would be something I would ever dream of, walking 110 miles in less than a week.. Meeting people like Dan and Esther really gives you faith in humanity if you ever had a doubt! They truly are wonderful!

4/04/2010 Day 2 (18 miles/8 hours) We felt good about being 5 miles ahead of our plan, so we took it easy in the morning and didn't hit the trail until 8:45am. Another beautiful day in So Cal! It was a day of steady climbing (3050' to 5450')!

A little after crossing I-8, we met up with another couple heading SoBo. He introduced himself as Monte, and quickly took an interest in our backpacks. After inquiring, I told him I had made the packs, which hieghtened his interest. He was very complimentary. Then, it occurred to me that we were talking to "Warner Springs Monte", which he confirmed. I had read some articles he had written about ul backpacking, but never met him. Pretty cool.

We camped at Long Cyn Creek at mile 39, another good mileage day. With reliable water and a fairly protected campsite, this seemed like a great place to make camp. Damian got there about 15 minutes after us and made camp as well. Winds were picking up and it was too cold to hang outside, so we headed to bed just after dinner.

4/05/2010 Rainy Day (4 miles/2 hours) That wind that was kicking up when we went to bed was apparently a storm front. Tons of wind and some rain made it a sleepless night for me. At one point a main guyline stake came loose, and the tent half fell over. A quickly got up and tied it off to a falled tree, and had no more troubles.

Morning finally came, and the storm was still on top of us. We packed up and hit the trail by 7ish, bundled up for protection from the blowing rain.

After about a 4 mile climb, we got to Laguna Mountain Lodge, where we had sent our first drop box. We decided to take advantage of a vacant cabin and got off the trail for the night. We bought some junk food, beer, wine, and some fire wood, and headed to get warm and clean. Our two friends also took a down day.

It's amazing how good it can feel to get clean after being wet and muddy. Tomorrow will be an easier day...mostly flat or downhill, we should be able to make around 20 miles easily, especially if the weather lets up. Then only another 13 miles on Wednesday to get to Sciccors Crossing, for our next break in Julian.

4/06/2010 Back on the Trail (25 miles/12 hours) That was the best nights sleep I've had in a while. It feels good to be clean and rested. The news said we got .54" of rain and 30-50mph winds at Mount Laguna yesterday. That sideways kind of rain. Yeah, good decision to get a cabin.

We were on the trail by 6:30am this morning. The temp must have been around 30 degrees...not too cold, but cold enough to freeze everything. The trail was frozen solid, but not icey, so it was good. The trees and bushes all had frost on them. The wind and rain had stopped, so my shorts, long sleeve shirt and hooded rain jacket were enough. That is, once we got moving to work some heat up. Our first break an hour in had a beautiful view of the rising sun, the Salton Sea, and the Imperial Sand Dunes. I love the long shadows in the early morning and late afternoon. What a great morning after a down day!

The miles seemed to be clicking off, and before we knew it we had 10 behind us. Feeling good from the down day, and an easy day of mostly level or down hill hiking, the hours passed by quickly.

We stopped at Upper Charriot Canyon, mile 63.8 (20 for the day) and made dinner. Mashed potatos and bacon for me, home-made pasta and meat sauce for Jene. After a nice rest we hit the trail again...a couple more hours of sun and we ended the day setting up camp in a beautiful meadow at Rodriguez Spur Road, a water cache at mile 68.8 (a 25 mile day, a record for us)! This day was definitely a high point.

Only 9 or so miles left to Scissors Crossing, a 3 hour walk in the morning. Then we hitch to Julian to get clean, eat and drink too much, and sleep in a bed again!

4/07/2010 Scissors Crossing/Julian (10 miles/3.5 hours) The meadow we camped in was perfect! Soft ground, protected from the wind, I got another good nights sleep. Lying awake in the early morning hours, I could just see out under the vestibule...the meadow, the silouette of the mountains, and the half moon.
 

We hit the trail by about 7:00am and quickly met up with an older gentleman who had set up a "PCT Store" by the water tank. His "store" got thrashed by the storm the other night, and he was moving it to a more protected area.

A slightly breezy morning, but a good 10+ degrees warmer than yesterday morning. More downhill towards the highway, which we reached by about 10:30am. This would be our first time hitch hiking.

We scored a ride within 5 or 10 minutes! Wow, that was easy! A couple probably in their early to mid 50's were down from No Cal on vacation to hike and ride motorcycles in the So Cal desert. They were headed to Julian as well, and were nice enough to pick us up!

They dropped us off at the PO, and we got our last drop box. We now had too much food due to the unplanned stay in Mt Laguna, and the fact that we weren't eating quite as much as we had planned. A short walk to the Julian Lodge, and we were extremely early for check-in. Luckily they had our room ready!
After dropping our stuff off, we realized I didn't have a clean shirt nor Jene clean pants. So off to the grocery we went to find something so we could get cleaned up.

After we were clean and our laundry was hung to dry, we set out on the town again. We had burgers in mind. The first place we went to didn't have their liquor license yet, so we moved on. Just around the corner we found a little restaraunt that used to be an old house. Burgers, fries, and beer were good! I was tired, so we headed back to the hotel.

After an hour nap, I was somehow able to talk Jene into getting us one of those famous Julian pies. Mmmm...fat and happy, sleep well.

4/08/2010 The Preaching Truck Driver and his Sleeping Wife (8.5 miles/3.5 hours) We "slept in" until around 6:00am. That's what happens when you fall asleep around 7:00pm every night out here! We hit the continental breakfast at 7:30am, then headed back to the room to organize our stuff.

At 9:00am we were out on the town for a few hours of going through the shops (bla, ick, eww!), only to find this town doesn't wake up until 10:00am. So we just walked around town for a while until the shops did open up. By noon we were checking out of the Julian Lodge, and I was very ready to get out of town. A quick sandwich and we were on our way.

I had read in Yogi's guide that Pie Town Gear (aptly named because there's more pie shops in this town than anything) provided rides to the trailhead. We had walked by a couple of times, and at 12:30pm they still weren't open yet (or answering their phone). That's how sleepy this town is...some shops just take the day off.

We headed East on the 78, and in about 10 minutes we scored a ride with a big rig. The guy driving seemed nice enough, and we piled in...me squatting in the back by his sleeping wife and Jene in the passenger seat. Apparently he and his wife go on religious missions in Africa until they run out of money, then head back to the states and drive trucks until they make enough money to go back. This sounds like a great cause, but then he asked Jene if she had ever seen someone healed. Then for the next 20 minutes he told us about how we had been on drugs and been molested, but had found God, and that we and everyone else should be going on missions too. No, I'm not making fun of religion, but we sure did get the creeps from this guy. Oh yeah, and his wife never did wake up.

He dropped us off at the trailhead about 1:00pm, and we headed for the hills. It was the warmest day yet, around 75 or 80 and clear & sunny.

On one of our breaks we were sitting in the shade when we heard a strange noise coming our way. It wasn't an airplane, but we weren't sure exactly what it was. Then flying over head was a huge swarm of bees. Luckily they weren't interested in us and kept on going.

We had only planned on a few miles, but there weren't many good camping spots, and we felt good, so we kept going until just after the first pipe gate at mile 86.4. A nice protected valley, we found a level spot in a clearing and pitched our tent.
We had a dry dinner since water was getting low, and there was still 5 miles in the morning before we got to the water cache at the third pipe gate. And hopefully the cache is full, otherwise water is another 10.4 miles away. Not that we can't make it, but we will be pretty thirsty by then.

A quiet beautiful night in our little valley. The low temp is forecasted at 50 degrees, and 20 degree up-swing from a couple days ago. Should be a good nights sleep. And only about 23 miles to go in our adventure...we could finish tomorrow, but our reservation if for Saturday, so we'll take it easy and get there Saturday afternoon.

4/09/2010 Close encounter with a rattle snake (15.5 miles/7.5 hours) Sleeping in until about 7:00am again because we only had about 15 miles, we hit the trail just before 8:00am. The temp last night was warm as promised, and it was a beautiful morning again!

It wasn't long before we got to the third gate, and the water cache was very full. Thanks to those who carry all that water up there for us!!! We took only what we needed, signed the register, and were on our way again.

Not far up the trail, Jene in the lead, I excitedly told her to stop, there was a snake on the trail. It was about 6' ahead of her, straight across the trail, and she hadn't noticed it. Taking a closer look, we realized it was a rattle snake, out getting warm in the morning sun. It still didn't seem to notice us, so we tossed a couple of rocks towards it. Then a guy was coming down the trail from the other way and we warned him of the snake. Finally, after a few more rocks, the lazy snake seemed to wake up, but just moved up the trail towards the other guy a few feet and stopped again. A few more rocks and it finally coiled up, but never did rattle its tail. After a few minutes, it slowly slithered into the bushes. I passed by when it was safe, then Jene. We said our greetings to the other hiker, and then went on our way. Thankfully I saw the snake before Jene stepped on it!!!

We stopped about an hour later and made some couscous and tea for breakfast, although it was closer to lunch time by then.
We got to Barrel Springs by about 3:00pm. This was to be our camp for the night. A nice area with lots of oak trees (watch out for the poison oak as well). It was early for us to stop hiking, but with only 9 more trail miles to our destination, we decided to take it easy.

After setting up camp, we decided to get cleaned up and headed back to the spring to rinse our clothes. We met another hiker there by the name of Rick. He was hiking all the way to Big Bear where his son was going to pick him up. After rinsing off our clothes we went back to camp and had a good dinner. Then we were in bed by the time the sun was setting.

A few hours tomorrow and our adventure will be over. Kind of sad...I don't want it to end.

4/10/2010 A sea of color (10 miles/4 hours) Last night was very quiet, with the exception of a few cars going down the nearby road. A local critter was digging a hole near our temporary home. At one point, Jene thought I was shaking the bed. Then we realized it was the earth moving...a small quake, most likely an after shock to the recent larger one (which neither of us felt).

There had been virtually no wind, so the condensation in our single walled tent really built up. It looked like it had rained, but the outside wasn't wet. After wiping the inside of the tent down and spreading the quilt over some bushes, I made some hot water for breakfast and tea. Taking our time, things dried well enough to pack up.


We hit the trail at 8:45am, tying our latest start on day 2. With only 9 trail miles and about a mile into to town, we were in no hurry. Soon after crossing the highway past Barrel Springs, we were in rolling hills of flowers. Valley after valley, for many miles, thousands of flowers carpeted the landscape. Fields of blue almost looked like water from far away. And the colors kept changing...white, yellow, purple, orange...huge patches of color from one to the next. Beautiful!!!

As we approached Eagle Rock, we could see some well dressed people and a photographer. When we met up with them we found that they were preparing for a wedding. The bride and groom had met 3 years earlier while hiking the PCT. What a beautiful backdrop for a wedding!

Only three trail miles left...more flowers, then oak trees and a stream. A beautiful end to a great hike!

What's next? Not sure exactly...could be section B, the JMT, or something else. One thing's for sure...there will be another big one, and another, and another...one day a through hike!

4/12/2010 Back home...wishing I was still out on the trail!

4/17/2010 The gear...what worked well and what didn't? The trip was beautiful and went very well. In fact, we now know we could have done more daily miles...averaging 20 miles per day is very doable.

Like I said before, the planning is about the gear so the trip doesn't have to be. My intent is to use gear that would be suitable for a 2600 mile through hike. So what worked well, and what didn't?

Pack
MYOG Packs - I decided not too long ago that I could make our own backpacks that would be lighter and more suited to our style than anything commercially available. At under 5oz, my pack performed extremely well. I learned a few things, and will make some refinements on the next version, but overall I am very happy and encouraged to make more of my own gear!

Shelter
Six Moon Designs Refuge-X tent - A one pound wonder! This tent did very well, even in the stormy conditions. The major drawback with this and any single walled tent is condensation. For that reason I prefer a tarp to a tent. The nice thing about the tent is bug protection...but they are part of nature, right?

Sleeping
Gossamer Gear Thinlight 1/4" thick pad cut down to 21 x 41. I've come to the conclusion that, unless I carry a 6" thick air mattress, there's no real comfort advantage to thicker or air pads. The only reason to go thicker would be for additional ground insulation in winter conditions.

Nunatak Back Country Blanket - while I did modify this quilt in order to save some weight and make it more efficient for us, it's still 90% the way it came. Extremely warm and comfortable...hard to beat. The only concern is that when down gets wet, it has no insulation properties. That said, even with the major condensation from the tent, the BCB got wet on the outside but never really "wetted through" to the insulation. Still, it's a concern for worse conditions. The alternative is synthetic, which even when wet still has good insulation properties, but tends to be heavier and doesn't pack as well. As long as you are careful this is a great option.

Clothing Packed
No complaints...I was warm and dry the entire time. The Montbell Down Inner Parka is amazingly warm for only 9oz! The Marmot Essense rain jacket vents well enough to use as a wind breaker without making you sweat, and keeps you dry in the rain. Montbell 2 1/2oz wind pants...these are warmer than they have any right being (my only leg insulation). Wigwam Ironman Triathlon socks are great...very thin and comfortable. The only drawback is they only come in white, and only stay that color for about a half hour on the trail. Washing them never really gets them looking good again. They should offer them in black and they would be perfect!

Cooking & Water Storage
First of all, any Trail Designs Caldera Cone is great! I own several different combinations, and have not been disappointed with any. I decided to bring my Titanium Goat 1100 pot with the Ti-Tri Inferno wood burning setup. This piece of equipment worked excellent! I really like the idea of using wood and not having to carry fuel, but the drawbacks are having to gather wood, constantly feeding the fire, and the fact that the black soot gets all over your hands no matter what you do. That said, I think my "set it and forget it" choice would be using their 12-10 alcohol stove. Works excellent and no mess. If you use this with the Ti-Tri cone, you always have wood as a backup option.

Platypus Hoser 3 liter...for a bladder type of system, this is my go to choice. Others seems to have a bad taste, and the platy never does. The Hoser design has never failed me, although I have had their other square bottom type fail several times. All that said, the only reason I would carry this type is because there isn't much water available and you have to carry more. I prefer to carry one liter Gatorade or water type bottles.

Freezer Bag Cooking (FBC) Minimalist Cozy...I love FBC cooking. Great healthy meals prepared at home, and just add water to rehydrate on the trail. The cozy keeps it nice and hot so it can do its magic!

Essentials & Stuff
Sun Screen - I didn't bring enough for the So Cal desert.

Lightload towel - great at about half the weight of a bandana, but I made the mistake of putting it a washing machine and ruined it. Washing it out by hand makes it last a long time.

Baking Soda - this is the first time I've brought it and WOW, works great for hygiene! Keeps the smells to a minimum!!!

Mr Pumice - I took a small piece of this pumice type stone to keep my feet healthy...one of the best things I have done! I use them at home, so why not on the trail where I am asking allot more than usual of my feet?

Chap Stick for foot lubricant - go with Body Glide!

Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide drops - only used them once during the trip where water source was questionable, but great! Very little taste (unlike chlorine or iodine), and you don't have to carry the extra pound of a filter.

Erik the Black's PCT Atlas - everything you need, nothing you don't. Just cut out the pages you need and send the rest forward to your drop boxes!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 camera - great quality photos, HD video, and water proof. Perfect!

Equipment worn or carried
Shoes - The North Face Prophecy II - these fit me looser than regular running shoes, which I like. I tend to wear my shoes so I can easily slip them on and off. Still not totally happy my footwear.

Columbia Sportswear Crux Shirt - I love the versatility of a long sleeve button front shirt. This one seemed to wear out quickly though.

GoLite Baja Short - 4oz of extreme comfort! Could be a bit longer though.

Tilley Endurables Airflow hat - great sun protection, sit pad, ground insulation for your head while sleeping. Love it!

BPL Stix 130cm Fixed Length Trekking Poles - I didn't like using trekking poles until I started using ultralight ones. At less than 4oz each, they're great! (double as tent poles too)

Tech 4-0 Watch/Pedometer/Altimeter/Thermometer - I really don't use all the features, but I like the timer (used to make sure we are taking enough breaks), alarm, and thermometer.

That's pretty much it...ultralight and ultra-comfortable, both on and off the trail. I will of course continue to try new things, that's just in me. But because I was well prepared, everything worked very well on the entire trip. Most of which I would take on a 4 1/2 month through hike!

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