The Path to Heaven and the Climb from Hell

First, we’re still alive and well. Second, we know it’s been awhile since our last post, and we apologize for this. Not to make excuses but we’ve been out of service range for quite some time. As you may already know if you’ve been following along with us on Instagram or Facebook, we’re well past Big Bear and into the Sierra. Which brings me to number three. We’re cramming a lot into this post to kind of get caught up. So we invite you to ask us any questions you may have in the comments section below and that way we can provide you with any information you feel like we’re leaving out.

Back at It

Rested and refueled after being in Big Bear (and eating those giant pancakes), we completed our first 20+ mile day, totaling 22 miles. This was also the beginning of what would become our second-longest waterless stretch so far on trail at 32 miles. We carried a total of nine liters of water between us, nearly 20 pounds in water weight alone. Thank goodness we stumbled upon a water cache  in the middle and were able to get a little extra.

Because we were carrying extra water weight, we planned on a short resupply not too far up the trail at Cedar Glen, which didn’t go as well as we had planned. Some of you may have heard this story already but here’s “The worst day” in Michelle’s words:

The Worst Day

We chose to resupply in the small town of Cedar Glen, CA, three or so miles from a trailhead that connects to the PCT. It was early afternoon so we had no luck hitching with someone heading back into town after day hiking. We had no choice but to road walk after having already hiked 13 miles that day. It was hot and walking on pavement is absolute torture to your feet. We were both grumpy and wanted nothing more than to just be there so we could rest our feet and eat a hot meal. I couldn’t keep up with Nolan. I also couldn’t stop and rest on the side of the highway. I just had to keep walking.

I don’t remember when I started to cry, but by the time I walked up to Nolan, who was waiting for me outside the Malt Shop where we planned to eat, I was basically sobbing. The sun was trying to kill me and everything hurt. He hugged me until I calmed down and then we went inside to eat. 

While we were there Nolan spoke with an elderly gentleman who was having lunch with his caregiver. He had never heard of the PCT but was super intrigued by our story and how filthy we were. We all chatted again before they said their goodbyes. We finished our meal and were about to head out when they both walked back in 20 minutes later. His caregiver informed us that we were on his heart and then he asked if we would like to come to his cabin and shower. We had planned on this being a quick stop but couldn’t say no to his offer. 

They drove us to the store so we could resupply and then to his cabin where we showered, met his two kitties, and talked a bit before they drove us all the way back to the trailhead. 

Sometimes all it takes is one small gesture, one simple act of kindness from a stranger to turn a really bad day into one of the most memorable.

One Month on Trail

The next day we celebrated our one month trailaversary by spending an afternoon at a natural hot spring and swimming hole.

A couple days later we stumbled upon some more trail magic when we finally made it down to the shores of a lake we had been walking along for what seemed like all afternoon, just wanting to be in the water. As soon as we made it to the beach we were invited to sit next to a family who gifted us with two of the coldest beers and bottles of water we had had in some time. We took a dip to cool off, paid a visit to the ice cream truck, and continued on.

That night we camped in a park up the trail, where we bathed in the sinks in the picnic area. We ended up moving our tent halfway through the night because Michelle kept hearing what sounded like something trying to dig in through the floor of our tent. We had to have camped above a burrow of some kind, so we got up and dragged our tent far enough for comfort, and managed to get some more sleep. 

A Visit to Ron’s House

As we continued north we just had to follow this sign to the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. I mean, how could we pass up the opportunity to get some extra calories? I can’t remember what our total came to but I want to say it was nearing the $30 range. All this food, totaling somewhere around 2,600 calories by my estimation, and it didn’t come close to the calories I had burned (according to my Fitbit) during the 15 miles we hiked to McDonald’s.

We weren’t eating just because we were hungry; we were eating to prepare for the next day, our biggest day yet. A 5,400-foot gain into Wrightwood and what stands as possibly our most memorable day on trail yet.

The 27-mile stretch from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood had no reliable water sources and we were hoping that the two possible water caches we knew of along the way had some water left, but we couldn’t rely on them. Not to mention this stretch has burned in the last several years and is now infested with a lovely plant called poodle dog bush. You’ll often smell this purple flowering bush before you see it; its strong odor smells eerily similar to marijuana and if you happen to brush it on your way by the tiny hairs can give you a rash worse than poison oak, respiratory problems, and it often doesn’t show up for several days after you’ve made contact. Surprise!

The Day Worse than the Worst Day? The Climb from Hell

We decided to pack out 13 liters between us. Translated into terms of weight that’s 28.5 pounds of water weight alone. After our large lunch we hiked a few miles in to set up our big day ahead. With no need to eat breakfast and still being full from our heaping meal of McDonald’s the previous day, we packed up and headed out early. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Thankfully, most of it wasn’t that steep of grade, just slow and steady uphill the entire way. To paint you a better picture the closest comparison I can make would be setting a treadmill incline about halfway, sometimes more, sometimes less and then strapping on a 40+ pound backpack and walking all day while every few hours your backpack gets a pound or two lighter. Not to mention no shade. To sum it all up in one word: grueling. But we know… we’re out here by choice. Two-thirds or so of the way up, hot, sweaty, and well overdue for a break we found solace under some trees overhanging a road we were crossing. We laid or sleeping pads out and took a well-deserved nap. 

We awoke to the sun beating down on our faces. Michelle rolled over to find her backpack to be infested with ants. Not just on it but in it as well. Every item in her backpack was covered with hundreds of ants. We teamed up to de-ant the items in her pack before resuming the unrelenting climb up the mountain. The higher we climbed the more tired we got and the more frustrated we both became at what seemed like the day that would never end. Both becoming hangry, we stopped to rest and eat. Being in the wonderful mood that I was in I took my backpack off with a little enthusiasm and leaned it against a dead tree and turned around again at the sound of a cracking wood. The weight of my bag (or possibly the little extra force I used while setting it down) had caused the branch to break and my pack began tumbling end over end down the steep rocky slope of the mountain, picking up speed with every revolution. We both stared in horror as we watched my backpack bowl down the mountain before thankfully snagging on a small tree about 75 meters below. 

I took a deep breath, realizing that this was my punishment for my own foolish behavior, and shimmied my way down to my backpack, almost skiing down on the loose rock. I grabbed my pack, inspected it for damage… surprisingly nothing but a few scratches and a hole smaller than my finger in one of the outer mesh pockets where it had snagged on the tree. I’m actually thankful for that hole; had my bag not caught that tree my day would have been a hell of a lot worse. After retrieving my pack and slowly ascending back to the trail we realized that a full 1.5 liter bottle of water was missing. It must have been ejected during the tumble, which was unfortunate since we didn’t have much water remaining at this point and were really hoping that the cache at the campground had been recently stocked. After sharing a long hug, knowing that our situation could’ve ended a lot worse, we continued on. About a quarter mile up the trail I realized I didn’t have my GPS. It had fallen off during my backpack’s roll down the mountain. We doubled back to search for it, and I got extremely lucky and stumbled upon it wedged in a crevice of rocks.

We hiked the last few miles as the sun set and made it to camp just after dark. There were a few gallons left and we took just what we needed to get us the rest of the way to Wrightwood the next morning. We pitched our tent and lay down, 5,400 feet higher than where we woke up. 

New Friends, New Adventures

We awoke the next morning and hiked the last few miles to the highway and hitched into town. We ate lunch and ended up at a trail angel’s house just outside of town. We thought we were going to be the only ones there when in the evening a group of six to seven hikers and a dog showed up, with more arriving the next day. This was the first decent-sized group of hikers we had seen in weeks since we are a bit late in the season, as we are still all too often reminded. We spent the next day getting to know them over several large community meals that were lacking a bit in the meat department. Unfortunately for us the majority of them were vegetarians. We resupplied on our day off and headed to the trail the next evening to avoid the heat. We had the steep climb and many switchbacks of “Boy Scout mountain,” better known as Mount Baden-Powell, ahead of us. 

We ran into a good portion of the group we met on our day off a few miles into the trail and all began hiking together. We walked back and forth, zigzagging up the switchbacks for what literally felt like forever until we were just a mile shy of the summit. We finally set up camp a little before midnight with plans to make it to the top for sunrise. No more than four and a half hours later we were back on the trail, trying to beat the sunlight to the top of the mountain. We passed a 1,500-year-old bristlecone pine tree just before the last jaunt to the summit, where we saw about half of our new friends waiting for us. We snapped a few pictures as the sun rose above the horizon. 

A Failed Celebration

We all had packed out a beer with plans to shotgun them together at the top. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, “shotgunning” a beer is when you turn a beer on its side, poke a hole with a key or knife, raise the beer to your mouth while popping the top, allowing it to flow quickly and freely into your mouth and down to your belly. A fair amount of work to chug a beer. As it turns out, Michelle had never done this before, though she was reluctant to share this bit of information with the rest of us and pretended to go along as if she was familiar with the process. She did good right up until the part where you are supposed to pop the top. She decided to leave that part out. As a result, a good portion of her beer — most — ended up all over the front of her and all over the ground. The group erupted with laughter as they watched Michelle’s misfortune unfold. Michelle was now wearing more of the beer than she had drank. 

We continued on that morning after sunrise while the rest of the group waited on the stragglers who hadn’t made it in time for sunrise. We crossed a highway several times as we hiked through the mountains, which meant we were up and down several times and our muscles and knees were feeling it. On top of all that we had to walk along the highway for a few miles due to the trail being closed for an endangered frog. This made us rather uncomfortable as the road was very winding and rather busy with people out for weekend drives.

That evening we made it to a campground and found half the group camped with a few people escaping LA for the weekend. They fed us all we could eat so they didn’t have to take anything home and let us camp at their site. We continue to both  feel blessed and to be amazed at the kindness and generosity of others. 

Trying to Beat the Heat

The next few days we really started to feel the heat and we began to be limited in the time of day we could hike. We essentially had to find somewhere to hide in the shade between noon and 5 p.m., and our days and mileage revolved around how early we got up and how late we wanted to hike. Despite only hiking in the mornings and evenings, we continued to make our miles and meet up with our new friends every few days. This began to prove quite difficult as a large portion of them had grown tired of the desert and were now hitching quite frequently. 

We caught up with them and several other hikers again at the Acton KOA near Agua Dulce on our way to Hiker Heaven, one of the more popular places to stay on the PCT. After seeking shelter there during the scorcher that Mother Nature had so kindly given us that day, we set out in the cool evening breeze. We hiked late into the night, through a tunnel (very spooky at night) and ended up cowboy camping, which is basically camping on the ground rather than in a tent. It was Michelle’s first time and we thankfully had no visits from critters during the night. In the morning we hiked through the iconic Vasquez Rocks, a popular filming area of several films and TV shows. We had breakfast in town and caught a ride to Hiker Heaven.

Hiker Heaven Is Exactly That

This place was incredible! They had loaner clothes, shoes, laundry, mailing and resupply options, places to camp, and a trailer house for the hikers with AC and cable, two luxuries that are ever so rare out on the trail. Not to mention the biggest shoe graveyard we’ve seen yet. Later that afternoon another trail angel showed up all the way from the Palm Springs area and barbecued up a feast for us and over 30 other hikers that were part of a late-season bubble. It was the first home-cooked meal we had had since arriving on trail. We were surprised the next day by a package from Michelle’s sister containing ice cream from one of her favorite places in Nashville. Oh my goodness did that hit the spot in the heat.

We said our goodbyes to a lot of the people we had been hiking with as they were hitching forward to the Sierra to get out of the heat, and left Agua Dulce in the evening to begin our first night hike.

More on that and the rest of the way to Kennedy Meadows. The Sierra are coming soon. Stay tuned.

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Rolen Sell : Jul 29th

    An amazing story! Thanks for posting. Just glad you are the ones doing it and not me!!! God bless and safe hiking.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Brian Chapman : Aug 1st

    Loved your story, I look forward to reading more of your posts and seeing the pictures you take. Enjoy your hike and be safe.

    Reply

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