PCT CA Section E

You Need Sweet Water to Hatch a Pea

First day

Long climb out of Agua Dulce starting at 3pm. Passed by three thru hikers. 8.5 miles. Weather very cool and cloudy. Camp by 9pm. Cold night. Bright moon. Hard to stay asleep.

Trail register

Pipe gate

Second day

Clearer and warmer. Hiked out by 8:30am. Was just past noon by the time I had hiked far enough to be unable to see my first campsite on the other side of the valley. Lots of wildlife on the trail: rabbits, chipmunks, big and small lizards, horny toads, birds of all sizes, ants literally everywhere. Hiked until 3 then tried to nap on the bench. Too cold in the shade with the wind, even with down jacket on. Left an hour later and pitched camp at 6 two miles further on. 10 miles total. Laid in tent as sun set trying to get a warm nap. As soon as the sun was gone, it was freezing again.

How to keep the sun out of your face when napping

Day 3

Hotter day but still breezy. Broke backpack chest strap when about to leave. Left camp by 8. It was out of sight by 10. Followed/led a family down the hill to the road and stopped for a snack in a small clearing near the trail register. Climb up grassy mountain not too bad. Had lunch on opposite side. Lots of wildflowers. Long dry exposed section followed down to next road. Climb up was tough and still exposed. Explored a tunnel. Filled up at spring and made it to the top of the hill before having to give up for the day. Total distance about 14 miles. Camped in clearing with rabbits and hummingbirds. Made double supper. Accidentally squirted water all over the tent floor and through sleeping bag and had to panic clean it up.

These lizards are everywhere on the trail all the time
Very few snakes about so far
Along with an abundance of spring wildflowers comes an abundance of bees and other flying insects

Day 4

Up after six and going. Soon found headphone was crushed in my sleep. Next six days will be without audiobooks. Had trouble finishing bagel. Had to stretch water for 5 miles from camp. But two old men with three dogs arrived at nearby parking area and one donated most of a bottle of water! Arrived at Maxwell Camp guzzler after 5 miles of relatively easy hiking. Foul smelling stagnant water, but cold. I filtered it and took as much as I could, but left my Buff smelling awful from using it as a macro filter. Laid on the concrete for a couple of hours just to relax before moving on. Five more miles to Sawmill Camp to stop. Beautiful site with luxurious amenities such as a pit toilet and cell service. Tried to sit and enjoy the dusk by candlelight, but it blew out. Broke a tent stake and the remaining half would not hold. Had to get up in the middle of the night to weight the ropes with rocks. Also one strap on my pillow stuff sack came loose. Starting to lose track of all the things that are breaking this first week.

Can you spot the hummingbird?
Maxwell Camp guzzler
Sawmill campsite
Sawmill camp toilet
Water tank near Sawmill camp

Day 5

After taking my time getting up and spending an hour filtering water at the tank, I didn’t get out of camp until 10am. Immediately had to do a huge mile-long climb. After 4 miles, stopped at another tank and climbed under the metal roof to wait out the hottest part of the day in the shade.

After a couple hours napping on the tank, was joined by section hikers Tailgate and Gidget, who spent some time under the tank roof with me. They’re ending at Tehachapi this year. After some discussion, I convinced them to join me at Horse Trail Camp 6 miles further on.

They left first, but after one more big climb, I passed them making dinner trailside, then pushed through the meadows and down a steep hill to arrive some thirty minutes before them. I had already cooked dinner and was ready to set up my tent, so I told them I needed a huge rock to weight the cables in lieu of the broken stake. Instead, they offered me one of their stakes since they were nearly finished with their hike and hardly used them anyway for their freestanding 3-man tent. Stayed up well past dusk enjoying the Verizon LTE the campsite afforded.

The 500 mile point on the trail is around about here
This is probably past Mile 501, but it does mark the top of an annoying hill climb
I don’t know what these spiky pods are or do, but when they are on the ground cracked open, they are mostly hollow
The desert toward which I am headed
Tailgate and Gidget’s tent at Horse Trail Camp
Casa Mia at Horse Trail Camp

Day 6

Gidget’s voice woke me at 3 am: “Can you hear it?” I managed to doze off a bit until 4am, at which point I could sleep no longer. I laid awake until 4:30am, then crawled out with my water bag and filter to go down the steep trail to the spring by headlamp.

While there, I was repeatedly swooped by bats presumably attracted to the insects drawn to my headlamp. I also brushed my thumb against some stinging nettle, which would continue to nettle me for the next 24 hours. The sun was on the verge of rising by the time I climbed out of the ravine with my full bag of water. I drank my breakfast at the picnic table and watched the sun rise. It had risen by the time my campmates crawled out of their tent. They still managed, by dint of delaying breakfast and having two people to pack up one tent, managed to leave a half hour before me. Before leaving, they offered me an extra belt they didn’t need to use as a chest strap on my pack, thereby solving another of my problems. I left just after 7 and very quickly passed those two on the downhill section of trail. I did the 10 miles to Hiker Town without a major break (even though the trail was very annoying with constant ups and downs). Phone battery low so no pictures of that section. Arrived around 11:30

No one was active at Hiker Town to greet me or explain how the shower or anything else worked or where I could get the package I had sent there (nor did anyone answer the phone), but G&T arrived shortly and had called the Market Cafe that was (I soon learned) owned by the same people that owned Hiker Town. Tino took all three of us to the market where I got some popsicles, some beer, a salad, et al. Because Jimmy would be disappointed if I didn’t, I ordered a burrito too. Already there was Mike (Sea Egg), and we sat there for a couple hours just eating and drinking and chatting. Learned that Gidget hadn’t slept much due to a probable mouse running around their tent crunching on the Tyvek all night.

After Tino took Mike and me back to Hiker Town, I got a nice cold shower for a hot day. I met Marta, the hardest working woman I’ve ever met. She offered to wash and dry my laundry for free, gave me a can of Coke, made Mexican ceviche tostadas for everyone there, made grape agua fresca, and would have made pancakes for breakfast the next morning if I had been there.

When G&T returned from market, we ask chatted on patio for a while until Mike started preparing to leave to start a night hike across the desert. Soon after he left, Tacoma Tomato arrived, called Tino to get a ride to the store. I rode back with him to get a Powerade and the free ice cream they give to people who stay at Hiker Town. Soon, we were all back at the patio chatting until the sun went down. Bad microwave pizza for supper. Tacoma Tomato stayed out there until late waiting for his girlfriend to come pick him up. I went on repacking and preparing for the next day until past 9, and took to my bunk to fall asleep some time after 10.

Tailgate and Gidget
Tino, dog, and Mike (left)
Mexican ceviche tostada filling
Grape agua fresca
Cactus blossom after dark

Day 7

Awoke by alarm at 3am. G&T were up as well. After morning routine and two microwave pancakes on sticks for breakfast, began desert flatland trek at 4:30. Most of it went along the LA aqueduct or down straight dirt roads. Around 6, already 2.5 miles in, stopped to put on sunscreen, sunglasses, and eat 2 granola bars. Would eat nothing but Starburst for the next 6 hours. Very boring with only a few highlights:

  • the man sitting alone on top of a pipe bridge loudly reading from a book (like a history or philosophy book) in a broad-brimmed hat and bandana up to his nose, occasionally telling his dog to shut up and stop barking at me so he could keep reading. Like something you’d only see in a western movie.
  • This three-pawed mama taking her pups for a walk, following me for about a mile while hunting lizards and ground squirrels
  • Passing G&T when they stopped for a snack
  • Finally arriving at the bridge around mile 17 where the first bit of shade I’d seen since sunrise met the first water source, the aqueduct hiker faucet.

So, of course, Mr. Just Walked 17 Miles On 5 Hours of Sleep laid out his sleeping pad for a nap in the shade. G&T arrived a bit later, then left by 1:15 just in time for me to chase the shade across the dry creek bottom to where they had been sitting to continue my nap. We spoke of meeting up at the next campsite, but this was the last time I saw them.

A couple hours later, the shade was threatening to run off without me again, so I got up, fetched water, drank a lot of it, ate some cold soak ramen, and left by 5 to cross the wind farm. The wind was strong enough to threaten to push me off the trail when it gusted. Too sleepy to climb the remaining 1.2 miles to the creek in the dark after a 23 mile day, I camped in the first ravine after the wind farm ended. Discovered a tent stake had gone missing by means unknown. Weighted the tent end with rocks (never enough) and slept through the buffeting tent flapping that left my sleeping bag covered in a crust of fine dust by morning. Crawled out of the tent naked after 10pm to try to reseat the rocks, watched by unflappable deer, little success, rushed back inside to stave off hypothermia.

Open LA aqueduct
People like to walk on this pipe, but I didn’t
A long straight dirt road. Exciting hiking!
Notice the right rear paw is missing
Being outpaced by G&T
The only shade available all day. Good nap spot.

Day 8

Left camp by 8 with no water. Climbed the 1.2 miles to Tylercreek and spent several hours playing in it, soaking in it, collecting water from it, and sadly bidding it adieu when I finally got moving again. Stopped again 3 miles later in the next ravine, having spent the entire time watching the dirtbikes make circuits up and down the hills. Amazing how steep the sandy trails they climbed were when I could barely climb a relatively shallow sandy trail on foot. Stopped for lunch and watched the water in the little stream dry up as I sat there.

Gorilla came running down the hill behind me just as I was getting up to investigate. Said he was speedrunning the trail like most crazy things he’d done in his life. 35 miles a day ultralight with no zeros and a plan to reach Kennedy Meadows without stopping in a week. We chatted and he said he might see me at the next trail magic after a straight four climb at the end of which I intended to stop for the night, but I knew there was no way he would still be there by the time I crawled up the hill over the course of the next four hours.

It was not an easy climb. It caused some chafing. A blister on the bottom of my right foot popped midstride. The “549” trail magic was great though. Cabinets with food and many many gallons of water. I ate a lime, a jar of strawberries in syrup (and drank the syrup in water with lime juice), and a cookie. Then I made supper and drank as much water as I wanted…several liters worth. The sleeping experience was identical to the previous night… the rock was heavy, but the wind easily pulled the ropes from under it.

Observe my hydroengineering prowess
Goodbye Mr. Creek! I’ll miss you!
When you can clearly see the four mile climb that is waiting for you
The desert flatland I crossed the previous day

Day 9

A relatively easy downhill 10 mile hike without breaks down to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road… if it weren’t for those weeping sores between my legs. Found a number for the only remaining trail angels on a post at the roadside. Called. Picked up by Ted Johnson and brought to a hotel in Tehachapi about a half hour later. Very nice man. Showered and went to T-K’s for supperĀ  (pizza, salad, local craft beer). Did a bit of Wal-Mart shopping and went back to hotel for a phone call and very quickly arriving asleep. I would leave Tehachapi late the next day… but that is a story for the next post.

Peach Creamsicle