Days 29 & 30: Miles 317.9 – 341.9 (Cajon Pass)

Backpacking in the rain takes a lot of careful planning and forethought. One must always be thinking about plans to either stay dry or get dry, and then backup plans… in case the first plans don’t pan out. There are clothing strategies you must consider. One must also have a plan in place to keep gear dry and/or get gear dry after it gets wet.

Hiking in the rain.

This past month has been one hell of a learning curve in terms of backpacking in wet, cold environments. With there being so much water on trail this year, I figured I’d let you in on some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past 30 days.

First and foremost… if you don’t have to hike in the rain… don’t. It’s not easy to get dry again once wet. It’s even harder to get dry when you are both cold and wet. So… first things first… if you don’t have to hike in the rain… don’t. It really is a safety issue. Hypothermia is never far away, especially when it’s wet.

If you do find yourself in the rain, or somehow got wet while on trail, there are some things you can do to help ease the pain of the situation:

Keep your dry items separate from your wet items. Many backpacks have a single, large space for holding all your belongings. This makes it hard to keep your dry sleeping bag away from that saturated tent. The best option is to have a waterproof liner or trash bag where you store all your dry items. My backpack has a front pouch large enough to hold my entire tent. This has proven to be extremely helpful when dealing with a wet tent in the morning. I can simply shove my tent into its own compartment where it is not a threat to the rest of my gear.

When you have wet gear, it’s crucial that you get it dry as soon as possible. If you’re packing a wet tent and the sun randomly sneaks out from behind a cloud… stop hiking and pull that tent out to dry. Spread your tent over a bush or hang it from a tree. Heck… just spread it out on the ground. Just make sure you rotate and flip your tent so that all sides have time to dry.

Having dry clothes to change into at the end of the day is also very important. Crawling into a sleeping bag with wet or damp clothes will only lead to hypothermia. The moisture will suck the heat from your body, not to mention it can also damage your sleeping bag and negate its ability to insulate you properly.

I make sure to minimize the articles of clothing that are allowed to get wet. It’s everyone’s desire to hike in warm, dry clothes, but you might not have enough clothes. You need to have at least one set of dry clothes to change into at the end of the day.

Having a wet weather clothing plan is important. Most backpackers only carry a single set of layered clothes: base layer, outer layer, cold weather layer. Most hikers will also have some sort of rain gear. So, what do you wear in the rain? For me, I wear shorts, my sun hoodie, and my rain gear. This way I keep my base layers and cold weather gear dry for while in at camp.

Most rain gear is designed to keep you dry for only so long. It’s only a matter of time before your rain gear also becomes saturated and no longer useful for keeping you dry. One must keep that in mind when weighing out options. Do you keep hiking, or seek shelter to avoid saturation?

Saturated rain gear.

The decision to seek shelter versus keep hiking can be difficult. How long is it expected to keep raining? Is there a break in the weather? How far are you from shelter? Sometimes setting up your tent and waiting out the rain is the best option.

It’s hard to get dry once you’re wet, especially if the weather is not cooperating. Don’t panic! It might be cold and wet, but as long as you plan for it, a dry space is only a zipper away. Keep your stuff dry. Have clothes you wear in the rain and clothes you wear when you’re dry. Don’t wear your dry clothes in the rain!! Keep your wet items away from your dry items. Dry out your wet items as soon as possible.

Try not to prioritize miles over being dry. Hiking in the rain isn’t so bad if you keep moving, but keep in mind that you will need to stop eventually. When you do stop, you will get cold and uncomfortable very quickly. Have a plan and stick to it! Stay out of the rain if possible.

Miles 317.9 – 335.4

We woke-up eager to get the day started. Packrat, Bird, and I decided we would attempt a 17+ mile day, hoping to get as close as we can to Cajon Pass. It wasn’t going to be an easy day; we were looking at 2,000+ feet of elevation gain and temperatures in the mid to high 70’s.

The three of us had fun listening to music as we broke down camp. We filled the air with laughter as we packed our bags and prepared ourselves for the exhausting day ahead of us.

Bridge Crossing

The morning air was still. I think it could have been the warmest morning we’ve had so far, which is a welcomed change. We were wanting to get on the trail as soon as possible in an effort to beat the heat.

We hiked nearly 10 miles before we stopped at a picnic area along Silverwood Lake. It was a nice recreational area with 5-6 picnic tables, toilets and a garbage can.

Silverwood Lake, CA

You might not think a garbage can is very exciting, but for thru hikers, it’s a blessing. We are carrying all our stinky trash with us: days old tuna packets, beef jerky wrappers, mayonnaise packets, dirty dinner pouches, candy wrappers, etc.

Packrat, Bird, and I stuffed ourselves with enough lunch to knock us out for a short while. All three of us stretched out on the ground around the picnic tables and took naps before heading back out on trail.

The rest of the day seemed to drag on. We had crushed the miles in the morning, but we had significantly slowed down by the afternoon. The three of us stopped two more times due to the heat wearing us down.

Poppy’s are in bloom!

By early evening, we were again hungry but still a couple miles away from our goal location. We chose to stop and eat dinner at a small tent site before continuing on in the dark to our final stopping point.

This was our first night hike on the PCT. It always amazed me how different my surroundings appear when the sun goes down. It’s as if a completely different environment wakes up and comes to life. New sounds, new smells… Plant shadows created by your head lamp dance all around you, causing a heightened sense of awareness and caution. It’s both spooky and exhilarating.

Night hikes are spooky.

We made it to our tent site under pitch black conditions. There were millions of stars above us as we stumbled around trying to get our tents up in record speed.

The three of us were exhausted. We just wanted to sleep. Plus, we had McDonalds on our mind. tomorrow, we eat like kings and queen.

Miles 335.4 – 341.8

We were all smiles when we woke up. It’s always an exciting day when we know we are heading into town. Don’t get me wrong… we love being on trail, but it’s nice having a hot meal served to you or sleeping in an actual bed.

Packrat showing off her new hiking skirt.

We had a short 6 mile hike before we would be in Cajon Pass where there is a McDonalds and Subway. Our goal was to get into town as fast as possible. Little did we know, that wasn’t going to be an easy feat.

We were expecting the weather to be sunny in the morning followed by high winds and cloud cover in the afternoon. Rain was on the forecast (again), but not until the following day.

Storm moving into the valley below.

Our morning hike was outstanding. We knocked out the first three miles in just under an hour. The sun was shinning… birds chirping… life was great. So we thought.

Just as we reached the halfway point for the day, the weather took a nasty turn. Dark clouds and high winds replaced the sunshine as we dropped into the valley where Cajon Pass is located. The winds were so strong as we climbed over the last ridge line that it nearly blew us off the trail. It was very sketchy.

Receiving a high winds beat-down.

The wind beat us down as we shuffled across the final ridge. It was only 3 miles before we made it into town, but those few miles were earned. You would have thought we had just ran a marathon the way we limped into town.

Bird nearly sprinted to the McDonalds. He had his food receipt in hand already when Rachael and I walked in. The three of us stuffed our faces with all that McDonalds delightfulness. We had no other plans than to just eat. The hiker hunger is real!


The Plan

We are under another winter storm advisory. Yes… again. This is the third weekend we have had to hunker down in order to wait out winter storms. So far, we feel we have made smart decisions, although our patience is wearing.

Packrat, Bird, and I are staying at the Cajon Pass Inn for two nights as we wait out this next storm. The storm should pass within 24 hours, leaving a few days of sunshine in its wake. We are hoping to traverse the San Gabriel Mountains, but we’ll have to see what the snow conditions look like following the storm.

Section “C“ of the PCT

We’re already planning to return to Section C once we reach Kennedy Meadows, so we might also knock out the San Gabriel Mountains while we’re at it. Ultimately… we will be in Kennedy Meadows before we know it. With all these last winter storms, we expect we will be waiting for the Sierras to melt a bit before we push further north. This pause will give us time to return to these more southern mountains ranges which should be melted by then.

We will see…

Cheers, Smiley

One step at a time.

Camp Cajon aka Cajon Pass

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Comments 1

  • 360 Suzy : Apr 9th

    It’s so fun to see these posts! We’ve crossed paths often, in Julian, Ranchita, Idyllwild. In happy to see your trail family is doing well. We are just right behind you guys 🙂


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