Week 6: Leave a Review

After getting back on trail and returning to solo hiking after taking a break for the wedding, opinions and commentary ruled the week. I had some strong opinions about my food choices. Everyone, myself included had something to say about trail conditions. My body had some choice words for me as well.

Food Reviews

I found phenomenal pretzel-caramel-dark chocolate clusters at a Target in Burbank. Now they are very high on the list of things that I would like to have in my pack again. A great combination of sweet and salty, they maintained both the chewy and crunchy textures, despite most of the bag melting into one large cluster on a hot day. That’s better heat performance than a Snickers bar, just sayin. Healthier, but just as delicious, Target also had unsweetened, unsulphered dried mango. These qualifiers are important because somehow, when they add sweetener, the texture changes. It’s not a positive change. But this batch really hit the spot. Having eaten so much dried mango this far, I do wonder if I’ll get tired of it. I’ll keep you posted.

Not everything could be as good as the mango and caramels though. For dinners, I decided to try a spin on something that Dino had eaten a lot of while I was hiking with her – couscous salad. I mixed couscous with cranberries, sunflower seeds, cashews, olive oil, and, my addition to the recipe, bagged stuffing mix. I love stuffing, and the dish needed some flavoring. Good solution right? Wrong. The stuffing coagulated amongst the couscous bits making a weird bread pudding. It was dense and sticky and with little couscous bits everywhere. And that was dinner for approximately 4 days straight. Having to choke it down was a bit disheartening.

This fly on my leg was a good distraction from my sub-par dinner.

The other let down wasn’t as surprising. I’ve never liked banana chips, but so many people seem to love them as part of their snack set up that I thought I could give plantain chips a try. Not a fan, won’t be repeating that.

Trail Conditions

(Note: The date of this blog post DOES NOT reflect when I hiked this section, so any trail conditions relating to snow that I mention are no longer accurate.) 

On a completely different subject, opinions, streams of consciousness, first hand experiences, and comments on the FarOut app (this is the mapping app most if not all of the PCT hikers use) greatly impacted how I approached the trail and its snow. 

I started the week going up Acorn trail from Wrightwood to the PCT. It had been a bit sketchy to come down 5 days prior, but I had no interest in skipping this section just to avoid a half mile of what was likely to be a simple slush fest. It was a good decision, and it was informative to see just how much had melted in those 4 days. 

Given that kind of melt out, I decided to set my course for ascending Mt. Baden-Powell the next day, in the hopes that it too would have seen significant melt out. Then, sitting at a trailhead before the peak, I listened to an older gentleman saying he found it to be too dangerous, so he turned around and came back down the peak. That gave me pause, but I was still on the lookout for someone who, like me, was looking for another hiker to go with. Sadly, I only saw one hiker go up, and he did not fit that bill. With no one around to hike the potentially dangerous snow with, and a whole crowd of people who were taking the road walk, I band-wagonned. This meant an approximately 20 mile road walk along the Angeles Crest Highway. It was pretty, but not the trail.

A view of the Angeles Crest Highway when I took it as an alternate to Mt. Baden-Powell.

Going forward, I would hear many conflicting opinions – some said it was fine, not too dangerous, just slow. Others would tell me that I absolutely made the right call because I wasn’t carrying an ice axe. My take? I wouldn’t have died, but it probably would have sucked because of the slushiness and stress levels – the same reasons that I didn’t do some of San Jacinto. At least my decision making has stayed constant and erring on the side of caution. 

After Baden-Powell, the road meets the trail again at Islip Saddle. Here, many people chose to stay on the road. This meant avoiding one last snowy bit up and down the side of Mt. Williamson, and a shorter hike. I was mentally done with walking on pavement in the direct sun, and so decided to be on the trail. In addition, I felt that I am out here to be on the PCT, not to take whatever easier route is available. I know that going up and down the side of Mt. Williamson was a bit of a pointless up and down (aka a PUD). However, the entire trail is a PUD, and I chose it, so I wanted to choose it again by being on the trail rather than the road. 

By getting off the road, I got treated to a lovely trail camp with some neat wood stoves (which I didn’t use) and a perfect stream to soak my feet.

In the end, there was a couple of sections of high angle snow on the back side of Mt. Williamson, but I went slow, listened to upbeat music, and relished the fact that most of the trail was snow free. At this point, I decided to voice my opinion. I left a very comprehensive and factual comment on FarOut about the trail conditions for this section. It was my first lengthy comment on the app, and I spent way too much time editing it and trying to emulate the incredibly helpful trail reports from the San Jacinto section.

The rest of the week didn’t have any snow, but there were many more opinions to be had. I had a conversation with some folks that had very different expectations of trail magic than I do, and thought and talked to others A LOT about what people would do for the Sierras. They hold snow and river crossings are far more significant and dangerous than anything I have seen yet. 

Body Conditions 

The final category of opinions and commentary came directly from my body. First up were my feet. One might think that because I just spent 4 days off the trail and got new trail runners, everything should be hunky-dory. That unfortunately was just not the case. By the second day back on trail, my new shoes and lacing techniques were biting into the tendons on the front of my ankle, rubbing small bits of skin off my heels, and causing a new blister to form underneath one of my old mambos. I also was watching skin fall off my feet – something was wrong.

To start with, I stopped the nonsense of tying heel-locks when lacing my shoes. It is supposed to keep your heel in place, and therefore prevent blisters, but it was just doing damage. As soon as I stopped, the laces no longer cut into those tendons, and the hot spots went away. 

As far as the skin issues went, I was pretty sure I had athletes foot. I asked around for anti-fungal cream, but sadly no one had any. So, I embarked on a strict routine of drying my feet and socks at least 3 times a day, smearing my feet in hand sanitizer, and cleaning them in streams as often as possible. This lasted to the Acton RV Park, where, thank goodness, they sold anti-fungal cream for athlete’s foot. A very sensible item to have in stock with so many grimy hikers passing through. The journey to recovery for my feet began. 

Sadly, as that problem reached a solution, my knee flared up. This was what I have feared from even before beginning the trail. I know my knees are my weak point – by hiking with the excruciating pain that I experienced during my first bout of runner’s knee, the doctor told me I would be doing damage to the interior of my patella that simply wouldn’t heal on its own. He said I could do enough damage that surgery would be the solution. This is my line. I will not do that kind of damage to my knees for the sake of this trail. Suffice it to say, I was pretty distraught on my hike down the hill into the Acton RV Park. I was in enough pain that I thought I would be headed home, back to physical therapy.

The cute little mock-terminus at the Acton RV park.

The plan had been to get my resupply package from the RV Park office and continue on that same day, but I knew I had to take it easy. I stayed the night at the RV park, took some more ibuprofen and had some (incredibly expensive!) pizza. The next morning my knee pain was significantly less, so I planned a very short, 10 mile day into Agua Dulce. There, I stayed the night at the Serenity Oasis. It is a business in which a dusty backyard was decked out as hiker accommodations. Another hiker had been there for a couple days, dealing with his own knee pain, so I hiked out from there the next morning, my knee feeling better than the day before. I have no idea how I went from such severe knee pain that I was thinking I was done, to hiking almost normally in the span of three days. Listening to my body when it told me to slow down undoubtedly made a huge difference.

Throughout this, the hikers around me made a positive difference. People were sympathetic, and one hiker made sure I got where I wanted to be for the night in Acton. I’m not sure if Hot Rocks knew how big of a difference his patience with me (a relative stranger) made, but it did. (So if you know him, tell him!) Fortunately throughout this, I got some awesome scenery. There were very varied opinions about the section through Vasquez Rocks, but I really loved it.

Just some of the very cool rock formations at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area.

I also saw my favorite poppy yet, and managed to get myself a PCT hang tag for my backpack at the interpretive center.

The coolest poppy that I have seen on trail yet!

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