Days 31 – 33: Miles 444.3 – 424.3 (San Gabriel Mountains)

The term “Thru-Hiker” is a loose term surrounded by controversy among the hiker community. You might hear a different definition depending on the day… possibly one that fits a personal experience or achievement. According to Wikipedia, a thru-hike is “the act of hiking an established thru-hiking trail end-to-end continuously.”

The same Wikipedia page also states that “hiking trail sections out of order, e.g., starting at the halfway point of the AT and hiking to the northern terminus, then flying back to the middle and hiking the southern half, still counts as a thru-hike, as long as the trail is completed in one trip.”

Some hikers rely on the “old timers” to define thru-hiking. Others may base their opinion on a definition they picked up during some reading. Regardless of where you got your definition of thru-hiking… one thing is clear. There isn’t a clear definition of what a thru-hiker is.

PCT – San Gabriel Mountain Range

For me, there is much more to thru-hiking than the overall distance traveled or whether or not a footpath is completed from beginning to end. I am beginning to see thru-hiking as not just a physical activity or accomplishment, but a frame of mind. This journey is so much more than simply “walking” from one destination to another…

Since starting this journey, I’ve hiked “thru” a number of “things” that have nothing to do with a continuous footpath. In the beginning, I hiked thru agonizing aches and pains. My team and I have hiked thru nearly every weather condition imaginable: sunshine, rain, snow, hail, etc. I’ve also hiked thru a range of emotions: happiness, sorrow, anger, frustration… you get the point. We’ve hiked thru the day and weathered the elements at night. I’ve hiked thru hot days and shivered thru cold nights.

Snow Days on the PCT

I am not ignorant to the fact the word “thru” is a nontraditional way to spell “through.” Its altered spelling was meant to be paired with the words “hike” or “hiker”. But let’s be fair to what is really going on… adventures who take on this monumental feat are indeed hiking “thru” a lot more than just a continuous path.

People will tell you to “hike your own hike,” but in the same breath try to levy a homegrown definition of what a thru-hike is or is not. Well, let me assure you of one thing… if you attempt a long-distance hike, you will most definitely hike “thru” a lot. There are not shortages of thru’s on this hike.

I am a thru-hiker. This, I promise you.

Sunset Dinner – So Romantic

Reverse Course

Our plan was to skip the San Gabriel Mountains and add this stretch of trail to the list of sections we would come back to once we reach Kennedy Meadows South (KMS). Well, those plans have changed once again…

Packrat, Bird, and I found ourselves stuck in town yet again. Bird was not feeling well, plus we had mail to pick up at the post office, but the post office was closed for the weekend. So, we decided to take another zero in an attempt to get healthy and to wait for our resupply of goodies. It wasn’t planned and certainly not what we wanted to do, but that’s the way things pan out sometimes while on trail.

Bird remained in bed all day while Packrat and I decided to take a day trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Having grown up here in Southern California, I used to frequent Magic Mountain a couple times a year as a teenager. It’s been over twenty years since I’ve been back, and boy was it nostalgic. So many great memories…

Smiley & Packrat at Magic Mountain

It was Monday morning. The three of us were dying to get back on trail. These zero days are beginning to take their toll on our morale, so getting back on trail fast was important.

We hired an Uber to take us the trailhead in Acton, CA. Our plan was to continue north with the intent to return once we reach KMS. Those plans changed…

As we were just about to step foot onto the PCT, two German hikers approached us from down the road. One hiker was called “Not Mike” and I forgot the name of the other gentleman, but both very pleasant to talk to. They had also just been dropped off, but were heading southbound on the PCT. They were also NOBO hikers that have been dodging the winter storms and trying to devise alternative routes.

Places we’ve been, places yet to see.

They had bounced up to Tehachapi following the last winter storm and hiked southbound in hopes of completing their continuous path. There was a lot of snow on top of Mount Baden-Powell… was it deep from recent reports. Their hope was that the snow will have melted enough by the time they reach the summit. If not, there were alternate routes that can be taken that will avoid the summit.

This sounded like a great plan… why didn’t we think of it?

After much discussion, Packrat, Bird, and I reluctantly went along with the idea of hiking south through the San Gabriel Mountains. We would set off from Acton, CA and work our way back to Cajon Pass. This will eliminate our need to come back to this section later.

Miles 444.3 – 436.1

It was about 11:00 a.m. Packrat, Bird, and I had just discussed our new plan for going SOBO through the San Gabriel Mountains instead of heading north toward Aqua Dulce. It was a new idea, completely different than what we had prepared for, but it seemed to make sense to us at in the moment. We can knock out this large section we skipped and not have to worry about coming back later. Plus, we had at least five days of sunshine before the forecast was predicting more rain.

Mr. Gopher Snake (Friendly)

We hadn’t planned to climb thousands of feet, but what the heck… this is hiking. Without a completely solid plan, the three of us set off, back on trail and heading up the mountain we had just skipped over.

It was a brutal day. Bird was still feeling under the weather and Packrat wasn’t completely sold on the idea of changing plans so quickly (and for good reasons). Now to come on that. We had hopes of making it 14 miles, but that seemed far-fetched considering the elevation gain we were faced with.

Big Climbs = Amazing Views

The three of us headed up the mountain. Bird was feeling 100% so Packrat and I were without Bird for most of the day. We ascended 2,750 feet over 8.2 miles. It was a brutal climb after being off trail for a few days. The temperature was hot during the day, but cooled off rapidly as we met high winds later in the day.

We hiked a total of 4 hours and 45 minutes before landing at the North Fork Ranger Station. The ranger station looked to be a staging area for both the National Forest Service as well as wild land firefighters. There are a few buildings that I can only imagine are for equipment storage and lodging. There is also a lovely house where Todd, the local ranger and caretaker lives.

Packrat and I were met by Todd as we approached the ranger station. He is a wonderful human who very much looks forward to helping the seasonal hikers. He is an older gentleman with a long white beard. I imagined he looks like what Santa Claus would look like during the off season.

Water Cache – Compliments of Ranger Todd

Todd’s friend Chris (whom we did not meet) donates thousands of dollars’ worth of sodas, beer, and snacks (trail magic) for Todd to handout to hikers as they pass through each year. Packrat and I were gifted two beers each, a rice crispy treat, and a bag of chips as a welcome to the area. Todd also pointed us toward a large horse corral area where we were allowed to camp for the night.

The San Gabriel Mountain section is nearly 100 miles of trail. There are a couple two lane highways that pass through the mountains, which we had assumed were open and available for our use to help facilitate a resupply… “assumed” being the key word there.

Todd informed us that the highways were closed for the season. This was bad news for us! We only took on this section of trail because we thought we would be able to resupply halfway through. I was wrong. And Packrat was right for having her concerns.

Snow Patches at 5,000 ft 😬

Ranger Todd overheard our concerns and sprang into action. He ran back to his house and pulled together everything he could to help supply our home for the next five to six days. He returned to Packrat and me with a grocery sack full of food. Packrat and I were both thankful and humbled in that moment.

Miles 436.1 – 424.3

The sun was quick to peek over the mountain as Packrat, Bird, and I packed up our backpacks before setting off for the day. It was only 8:00 a.m., yet we could already feel the warmth of the spring sun.

We took some advice from our German friend and decided to hike by time rather than miles. Since we were climbing all day, we decided to take breaks every hour. It seemed to be a better strategy for conserving our energy and extending the life of our legs.

Girl Scout Cookies and Rest

The hike was somewhat challenging due to the number of blowdowns across the trail. This area had been decimated by the Station Fire in 2009 when Los Angeles County experienced their largest forest fire ever. Nearly 15 years later, the area is littered with dead trees… many which have fallen conveniently over the trail.

Another Blowdown!

The landscape looked like something from a Tim Burton movie… half alive, half forgotten. A murder of crows was squawking from the trees above, bickering amongst themselves. Gigantic, dead pines towered over the trail with their huge lanky branches lurking above head.

Oversized dead trees tower over the trail.

It was another hectic day traveling uphill. We ended up hiking 13 miles with 3,415 feet of ascent. We didn’t get in the number of miles we wanted, but the day was still quite successful considering the amount of effort it required from us.

We are once again against the clock as more wet weather is expected this Saturday. That only gives us a few more days to travel about 50 miles. Stay tuned.

Cheers, Smiley

One step at a time.

This makes it all worth it.


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