Saturday, March 31, 2018


After three buses and an Amtrak train ride, I'm back in Arizona with Gaila. I have learned once again that one thing I know about the weather is that you never know about the weather. I didn't come out this year to take another shot at the PCT. I just started considering it around Christmas because it seemed to be shaping up as another drought year in California. I continued to watch the weather and several ski resorts in Southern California with no significant precipitation. Officially, the wet season ends the end of February. California was hoping for a March Miracle, but what were the chances of that?

My plan was to hike north to south this year. That way I would give myself another couple weeks for what little snow there was to hopefully melt away with warm spring weather before I reached the higher elevations around Mt. Baden Powell, east of LA.
Everything was shaping up exactly as I had planned until my plane landed in Bakersfield, CA on March 1st. I caught a bus up to the small town of Lake Isabella and asked the local Baptist Church if I could sleep in their backyard. It poured all night long. I figured this was just a fluke, even though my weather app beeped a winter advisory warning. I caught a 5:20 a.m. bus further up to Walker Pass where the PCT crosses. People on the bus thought I was nuts, but I was still convinced this was just a freak storm and would pass quickly. I stepped off my first 20 miles through cold wind, sleet and snow flurries. I awoke the first morning to five inches of fresh snow. My only concern was finding the trail. As it turned out, five inches doesn't completely obliterate trail sign. Most areas have some depression, wildlife use the trail, old trail maintenance helps identify the route, and if all else fails I had my Guthook App that tells me if I am two feet off trail.

The results of that storm created snow covered trail all the way to Mojave/Tehachapi Pass. I didn't lose the snow until I started to drop down to Hwy. 58 into the windmill littered pass.
I only had two town stops planned, but that was all about to change. Everything I have is quick drying with just a small slice of sunshine. When things get damp I can usually stop for a couple hours, set up my tent and a clothesline and have everything dried out in an hour. Those first five days I had no sunshine slices, just cold wind and blowing snow. My first non-scheduled stop turned out to be Mojave, CA., a sad little dot on the map where you would only go if you needed to dry out for a day. Across the street from my Motel 6 I spied a hamburger joint. It was very unique. I placed my order and immediately the girl yelled it back to the cook, "I need a fuckin' deluxe, fries and a fuckin' strawberry milkshake." (It was actually worse than this, but I don't want to make this too R rated). That was just the beginning. For an hour I heard her and the cook loudly complain about the owner, dropping the F bomb about three times in every sentence. But, I have to admit it was a really fuckin' good hamburger.
The next leg of the trip is the one most PCT hikers dread. During the popular hiking season of April and May this section is often triple digit hot. In my case I still had all four layers on, two buffs, and my gloves. There is a reason they put hundreds of wind generators here. Fortunately, the first 10 miles was abnormally still, but then a cold wind blew for the next 50 miles.
Cold weather doesn't change the water situation. I found little water over the next couple days. My app gives me clues where to look and I did find water the first afternoon up a canyon called Tylerhouse, about a quarter mile. I hate carrying too much so I only took a couple liters--that was a mistake. I was gambling on a faucet near the LA aqueduct. My app said it would be dripping---WRONG! After dinner that night I had no water left and 16 miles to my next known water at a place called HikerTown. I got up about 4 a.m. To beat the heat, if by chance there was any, and started hiking the aqueduct at forced march speed. As it turned out it was a cold, windy morning again. Many hikers do this stretch at night when it's cool. I did it during the day with all four layers on. This is where I lost my Tilley hat. I had it on over my hoodie and never felt it blow off. The Tilley hat guarantee, I thought I had, is another story.
This stretch of trail made me rethink what I was doing. I thought I had convinced myself last year that I should concentrate the miles my knees have left on the more pristine trails of the world. Why, I considered, do somewhat boring, non-backpacking areas, that just connect the dots on a long trail. I guess I am back out here because I wanted to slay the beast that tried to beat me last year. I wanted to at least finish this Southern California section, and see what it was all about. I don't want to give the impression that there are not some beautiful areas along this first 650 miles of trail, but it is not the most wonderful place to eat up trail miles.
This path stretches through an area just an hour or so from the reach of 25 million people. Like lemmings they stream out of their burrows and devour their surroundings. Land agencies like the Forest Service and BLM let them destroy areas with impunity. Not only is the PCT rutted out by dirt bikes, but much of the surrounding hillsides that pose more of a climbing challenge. Between Tehachapi and Lake Hughes, CA I saw constant soil vandalism in action. Had I been a land manager I could have written a dozen tickets. 
I can only assume that the Forest Service now considers soil vandalism another on the list of, "The Land of Many Uses." Sign Graphs of dirt bikes and mountain bikes, with a lined thru circle, will not stop the lemmings from violating this land, it would take enforcement and setting an example that would communicate to those interests that there are rules and consequences. Mountain bikers use the PCT as their personal turf, and slap their, "Mountain Biking is not a Crime" stickers all over trail signage.
You then have the artistic lemmings that spray paint rocks, bridges, signage, and trees. Some parts of the trail resemble a freight train that has spent too much down time in a metropolitan rail yard. Who knows how many pyromaniac lemmings there are, but much of the apocalyptic landscape from fire damage grows in acreage every fire season.
I go back to my broken record adage, "multiply numbers, divide resources."
So a couple days of dry weather from Tehachapi ended suddenly as I crossed the mountains to Lake Hughes, CA. Met my first northbound section hiker Paul (trail name: usedtacoulda). I could see him ahead of me on the trail. He had his back to me, stopped, looking down at his trail information. It was pouring. I pulled up with my umbrella at full mast and said hello. Paul was contemplating turning around and walking all the way back to Lake Hughes, about 13 miles. Everything he had was soaking wet, and he was currently wearing the layers he slept in. He liked my umbrella setup and I told him it had been getting plenty of use.
When I reached the road crossing to Lake Hughes the sun finally peeked out and I was able to go down into a creek bottom, find a flat spot to camp and dry my gear before nightfall.

After hiking into town the next morning and picking up my resupply at the Post Office, I ran into Paul at the historic Rock Inn. I was sitting by the fireplace having my usual rocket fuel breakfast when Paul came down from his room. He was in much better spirits after a dry night at the inn.
At this point I am still in denial about the March weather, but I am starting to see an evil pattern. My app is calling for a three wave system of the Pineapple Express over the next 72 hours.
When I started this trek I had no intentions of stopping at HikerTown, Hiker Heaven or any of the other social gathering pitstops along the trail. As it turned out I needed HikerTown for water. It is a quirky little property of false facade buildings where many hikers spend a night. I went in to ask to use their water spigot and saw a sign that said, "Do Not Disturb." Perfect, snagged a couple liters of water and on my way.
I reached the town of Agua Dulce in a cold, all day downpour. This one has me reconsidering my rain system. (Look for an update on my blog, "Pack your own pack.") If nothing else, this trip tested a lot of gear and systems I use, and there will be tweaking. My light-weight poncho was like wrestling with a snake in the wind.
 By the time I reached town it was dark and I was drenched to the bone. Hiker Heaven was sounding better with every step. It is a couple that take in and help hundreds of PCT hikers every season. They are Trail Angels on steroids. I had read a lot about this place but finding it actually turned out to be a challenge. I stopped in at a liquor store and asked the cashier if he knew where it was. He said it was up the next street. I said, "How far?" He said, "All the way."  I said, "How far is that?" He said, "All the way to the end." I was too wet and tired to ask one last time in hopes of a sensible answer. I thought maybe I should just buy a bottle of honey whiskey and find a bridge to sleep under. But instead I headed up the road all the way to the end. There I found all the houses looked alike. Nothing to indicate one was heaven for hikers. In desperation I finally knocked at a door for information. The guy pointed to the house next door. I found my way through an iron gate and was greeted by five barking dogs. At this point I don't care if they attack me and tear my face off, "I'm coming in gang." I was a soaked rat. I wouldn't even let me in if I were these people. But they welcomed me in with open arms. I immediately went into a bathroom and dumped all my wet gear in the tub. They showed me around my home for the night which was a mobile home. Gave me a room, let me dry out, did my laundry, let me take a hot shower, and tried to convince me to take a zero day and relax a bit.
Phase two of the Pineapple Express was not supposed to arrive until late the next day. I decline the zero day offer and left early the next morning. My plan was to hike through the Vasquez Rocks area about 10 miles to a KOA campground near the town of Acton, CA. I was hoping to beat the rain and find some type of shelter at this KOA for the night and keep my gear dry until this storm passed. I was relieved to see this big empty pavilion when I arrived. Perfect place to sleep for the night. I was shocked that they wouldn't let me set my tent up underneath it. I was about to leave when trail magic hit me once more. I started talking to a guy with a guitar. He turned out to be a movie producer shooting scenes at the KOA. He had two Avion travel trailers as props and offered me one for the night with heat, water, toilet and bed. Of course, I was all in.

From there the trail went straight up for about 15 miles. The rain stopped by early morning and I was back on the trail by dark thirty. Once I topped out late in the day I immediately hit snow. That snow and the snow from phase three of the storm stayed with me for the next 65 miles. By this time I had surrendered to the March Madness. It was not going to stop. This was going to be a winter camping month, and I might just as well get used to it.
Probably the scariest part of the trail was a section I should not have been on. It wasn't by design, it was weather caused and possibly mis-signed. It would have been so much easier had I been paying better attention, but at this point I am head down marching through a snowstorm. There is a beautiful, deep canyon that has been closed off to PCT hikers because of an endangered frog. I knew about it, but didn't realize I had reached it. If there was a sign indicating it, and directing me to road walk Hwy. 2 around it, I never saw it. It turned out to be some of the deepest snow I would encounter. All the way through this steep canyon I was saying to myself, "They need to do some serious trail maintenance here." The tread was eroded away to almost nothing but a line in the soil. On top of that, much of it was covered in deep snow. A summit trail crossed it at one point that was in much better shape and I mistook if for the PCT. Two miles later something didn't seem right. It is so hard to backtrack and kick yourself at the same time. It wasn't until after dark that the trail crossed Hwy. 2 again at a place called Eagles Roost Picnic Area. There I saw a huge yellow sign that made it very clear that I just spent the last few hours on a section of trail that hasn't been used for years. I was frozen, it was foggy, and I was frustrated with myself for obviously making a stupid mistake. I set my tent up in the snow covered picnic area, ate a hot dinner, and went to bed. In the morning my boots were so frozen I could not get them on. It took a half-hour of kneading them like bread dough to finally slip them on my frozen feet. At this point there is only one option. Start hiking hard. The faster you move the more the furnace gets stoked. Within a couple miles your body goes from stinging misery to stripping layers. Then the glorious sun rises and the big, beautiful hydrogen reactor warms your skin and melts away any remaining hypothermic symptoms.

Like Mt. Jacinto I hiked around Mt. Baden Powell. Hwy 2 was closed because of the snowstorm so I had a nice two lane trail to follow.
Once again, I was making an unplanned pitstop. My resupply box was only 20+ miles from Wrightwood, CA at a Best Western motel at Cajon Pass on Interstate 15. Wrightwood was a few miles off trail and I had no plans of going down there. After 65 miles of snow, cold and wet conditions, Wrightwood sounded like a nice little oasis I could not refuse. This was a great decision. I loved Wrightwood. A very friendly trail town. I found the Evergreen Cafe decked out in St. Patty's decor. This was obviously my place. Although friendly, they were crowded. It was a Sunday afternoon. Half of Los Angeles was in the mountains because of this odd weather phenomenon called snow they hadn't seen in so long. I told people, Jerry Brown should hire me as the state hydrologist. I obviously brought this weather to California.

The cafe said I would have to leave my pack outside. I will never do that. Last year a couple brothers lost their packs doing that very thing. I started to leave when a family said, "He can put it under our table, in fact, he can sit with us." Had a great time with them, and when they left, without telling me, they bought my meal." Hitchhiking, eating out, talking to people on the street, registering at the local hardware as a PCT hiker, everything about this town was fantastic.
When I left town the next morning it was a 3 mile,  2,000 ft climb back to the PCT at 8,200 ft. At the top I met Thomas. He now lived in Wrightwood, but has hiked all over the world. He was a very interesting and spiritual guy. We talked hiking gear (he gave me a new pair of gloves), religion, world hiking trails, and personal histories. After a couple hours he decided he would hike with me a ways down out of the snow. He knew the area well and pointed out my route into the valley below. I had a great morning. I was in no hurry. It was 20+ miles, all downhill, good weather for a change, and quickly running out of snow patches the lower I descended.

The next day I hiked into Cajon Pass, reaching the Best Western motel by noon, and took the rest of the day off.
I found a few northbound hikers at the motel settled in for a few days because yet another storm system was scheduled through. Trying to read the weather for the next day, I figured I would have a mostly dry day of hiking before the big storm hit. Everything started out fine, but by noon the following day I was caught in a cold, wet, continuous rain. The other part of my plan was to spend the whole next day, in my tent, under a pavilion next to Silverwood Lake as the big storm passed over. The pavilions turned out to be small and filled with large, cement picnic tables--no place for a tent. I finally settled into a flat spot for the night as darkness fell. It rained all night. I dreaded staying in my tent all day. When I got out to look around, the muddy hillside didn't look all that stable in this downpour. Maybe I have watched too much Nightly News, but I don't want to be found in 5,000 years and have people calling me, "Bog Man" or "Mud Mummy." I packed up. It was going to be another head down, umbrella up day. This was maybe the worst day of the trek. Very cold, strong wind, blowing rain in sideways all day. This is the day I decided a rain jacket and pants would replace my poncho for sure. Luckily two things happened by 5 p.m to save the day. First, I reached Deep Creek hot springs. Second, the sun came out for about an hour before it set. I had not planned to spend anytime at the hot springs. Every thing I knew about the place made it sound like a hangout for a bunch of stoners. I guess stoners don't like foul weather because I had the place all too myself. That was good because, again, I was a bit hypothermic. I set up my tent, hung a clothes line, slipped into the hot springs and spent an hour or so getting my core temperature back to normal.
Although it stayed cold enough to freeze my water bottles every night, the remaining days stayed sunny. I was running into more and more northbound hikers every day. They had it no better than I, as cold, wet weather had been pounding them since the border wall. I had met several who were already dropping out. Many just were packed too light for these types of conditions. I just can't imagine. With a bomb-proof tent, 5 degree bag and inflatable ground pad, I was semi-miserable on several nights. Many I encounter are carrying a pack the size of a purse that wouldn't even hold my sleeping bag. I wanted to ask lots of questions as we passed on the trail but usually it was raining so hard conversations were short lived.
I did have a chance to spend an hour with two who were quitting near Big Bear Lake. I was trying to hitch into town. I had spent almost two hours with my thumb out in a cold morning wind. Suddenly I was joined by a guy from San Francisco and a girl from Florida. She was sick and he was just sick of the weather. They were pulling the pin and going home. I wasn't thrilled when they showed up because now whoever pulled over needed room for three. They hung with me for an hour, even waving a twenty dollar bill at cars, then decided there were 5 cars going down mountain for every one coming up. They switched sides and hooked a ride immediately. Within 10 minutes a car with four Russian kids picked me up. Only one spoke limited English, but within 16 miles to Big Bear I was able to launder some money, get the results for the upcoming mid-term elections and find out that Putin will win his next three elections.
My bus driver off the mountain the next day was, Mick King. We had a great conversation all the way to San Bernadino. Mick is a retired Sargent Major in the British Army. Then he spent several years as a Yeoman in the Queens Guard. I love meeting interesting people. I was able to Google image Mick and find a pic of him standing directly behind the Queen. He was stationed all over the world, met his Californian wife while having his picture taken with her during a tour of the Palace in his Yeoman's uniform.

Waiting for the snow to melt out of the Sierra before continuing. When I flew out to Bakersfield, March 1st, snow level was 17% of average. It now stands at close to 50%. Will watch and see.


Anonymous said...

Dick Mallery, You are an animal. Jennifer Klienrichard and Steve Ross gave me your blog post site. Amazing read of your March 2018 hike. I did 7 days of trail maintenance from Cajon Pass (stayed at the Mormon Rock Fire Department a week w organized crew of volunteers) to Silverlake betweem March 15 & 21, then 2 days from Mission Creek Preserve below PCT and 7 miles from mm 222 to 229 and back to the Preserve's Rock House about March 25 after freezing my butt off. At 72 I find weight and comfort an impossible balace and admire your fortitude!!!! 260-402-7042 for a chance to compare notes if you would so choose.

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