Days 34 – 37: Miles 424.3 – 341.9 (Wrightwood)

It is amazing to me how hikers will find a million different routes to take for the same stretch of trail. Between highways, forest service access roads, and trail systems, hikers will do anything to ensure their continuous path and/or miles are fully accounted for.

We continued our hike through the San Gabriel Mountains. As south-bounders, we were able to inform tons of north-bouncers of what trail conditions they can expect. In return, they shared with us the trail conditions we could expect. Through that process, you really get to appreciate the creativity hikers have in creating alternative routes.

Bird leading us down Highway 2.

Conditions in the Southern California mountains continue to be extremely treacherous. Reports of hikers being scared to death over near death experiences are becoming a daily occurrence, especially now that there are many more hikers on trail. From Mount Laguna to Wrightwood… the trails have been slammed with snow and rain… making for some pretty challenging, if not dangerous conditions. This leads to many alternative routes for those of us not wanting to tempt faith.

Up until a month ago, I was a well educated day hiker at best. Having been a Boy Scout, a fireman, a medic, and an Air Force Airman, survival skills and knowledge is absolutely within my repertoire. Mountaineering is NOT in my rolodex of skills… yet. I am a hiker. I am equipped with lightweight hiking equipment, not cold weather mountaineering tools. It’s my opinion that I need to limit myself to hiking activities for now and leave the mountaineering for those trained and equipped to do so.

The snow is still very deep!

Safety is and will always be my number one priority. I love this adventure I am on, and I would love to share this experience with others someday. I can’t do that if I’m dead.

The desire to complete a thru hike as intended is hard to overcome. I desperately want to be on the trail I have set out to hike, but safety concerns must be addressed. For this reason, we’ve had to take some detours on alternative routes. And I’m encouraging other hikers to do the same.

Bird’s Snowman

Be safe!

Miles 424.3 – 406.6

I slept well last night. The weather was warmer than it had been and there was very little wind, making for pleasant sleep conditions.

Dawn of a new day.

The weather for the day made for an amazing hike. It was sunny with little to no clouds. The temperature for the day peaked around 78 degree; perfect if you’re from SoCal… hot if you’re from Bend, Oregon.

We were on trail by 8 a.m. and moved quickly along trail while the temperatures were still bearable. The morning was spent crawling over more blowdowns and we even had to navigate over a couple miles worth of snow covered trails, but nothing too extreme.

Widow Maker!

We made it to the Mill Creek Fire Station just before noon. The fire station access was just off the Angeles Forest Highway, which was open and had plenty of traffic for a quick hitch into town.

There were still some concerns with not having enough food to make it all the way to Wrightwood, so we decided to hitch into town for more provisions. A wonderful trail angel named Michelle and her son Ocean picked us up and drove us into Palmdale where we made a quick trip to Walmart.

The three of us were back on trail within a couple hours. We continued on trail, first hiking uphill for about 1,500 feet, and then downhill for the remained of the day. We planned to hike in the dark so we opted to take the forestry road that ran alongside the PCT for ease of travel.

We passed a few hikers who warned us of a black bear they had just chased off trail. It was beginning to get dark, so we were a bit on edge as we descended into the valley during dusk. As we walked, more and more signs of bear activity were emerging. Bear scat and foot prints littered the trail below our feet.

Black Bear Prints.

I took it upon myself to be our bear deterrent. Every few minutes I would yell out, “Hey Bear!” Bird shared with me that the clacking of hiking poles will also deter them, so I clacked away hoping to cause enough commotion to keep Yogi at bay.

We made it to our camp site in the dark, and without seeing any bears. I was both glad and somewhat bummed. It would have been cool to see a bear… especially since Packrat has never seen one in the wild. But, we avoided being eaten for now.

Ready for a night hike.

By days end, we had completed 16.6 miles with the use of an alternate route and climbed 2,500 feet. We were exhausted.

Miles 406.6 – 386.1

It was extremely cold! The coldest night we’ve had by far. I had to force myself out of my sleeping bag, which was saturated with condensation.

Wet wake-up.

Packrat and I both decided to forgo setting up our tents with the rain flies. This was not smart, especially since we were setup right along a beautiful mountain stream.

We were moving a little slower than usual that morning. All three of us needed to wait for the morning sun to peak over the mountain so we could dry out some of our gear before packing it away. We also needed to re-service all of our water containers, which wasn’t pleasant with freezing hands and even colder water.

We set-off around 9 a.m. hoping we might make up some ground. There was a trail closure coming up that would require us to hike a portion of Highway 2. The FarOut app had Highway 2 as an alternate route for the PCT. If we take the alternate route, we would avoid much of the snow and blowdowns that had been reported by other hikers.

Good morning!

Packrat, Bird, and I departed Sulfur Springs Campground on the PCT. It was nice being back in the PCT, but that was very short-lived. We only hiked three and a half miles before reaching the Three Points day use area.

The three of us were eating a late breakfast at a picnic table when a driver approached us. We didn’t get the gentleman’s name, but he was very nice. He seemed to be very knowledgeable about the trail and the surrounding area. He recommended we take Highway 2 the entire way up the mountain to avoid the deep snowpack we weee headed towards.

Road-hike Racheal.

A portion of the highway was still closed due to snow so we could expect there to be very little traffic in the road. This alternate route would provide us a safer alternative to the trail, and we would maintain dry feet for a bit longer. So, we set off on the paved highway…

Over mountains and through tunnels.

I have a love/hate relationship with road walks. The positive to road hikes is that you get to avoid all the trail obstacles. The negative to road hikes is that pavement is really hard on the feet and joints. Trail or road… we had a big climb ahead of us. We followed the road for 5.5 miles, climbing nearly 1,800 feet. We didn’t avoid any of the climb considering the PCT and Highway 2 met again at our final stop for the day.

Smiley and Packrat

We stopped short of the Highway 2 closure and camped at Islip Point day use area. We weren’t in an actual campground, so we had to get creative where we pitched our tents. The parking lot had an island just large enough for us to pitch all three of our tents. And so we slept… in the middle of a parking lot.

Miles 386.1. – 369.1

We woke-up knowing we would be walking through snow as we traverse the closed section of Highway 2. Packrat, Bird, and I wasted no time getting packed up, knowing the longer we waited, the softer the snow became.

Hiking through snow can be very difficult, especially when your post holing through two feet of snow. Ideal snow hiking would include the use of snowshoes and cold weather clothes. Thru hikers can’t afford to carry the weight of snowshoes, and our clothing selection is usually geared toward mild weather conditions. We had none of that gear…

We ran into snow only a half mile into the road closure. From there, we traveled through six miles of snow covered highway – uphill for five miles of it. The walk through the snow was not too bad at first. It was still cool out so most of the snowpack was hard enough to traverse over without post holing. By the time we got a couple miles into our hike, the snow was quickly turning into slush and we found ourselves sliding all over the place.

The three of us passed multiple hikers on our way south on Highway 2. They were a bit luckier since their travel was mostly downhill. Bird and I even got to see and talk to Hilda, the wonderful woman we met on the shuttle Day 1 from Old Town, San Diego to the Southern Terminus.

Snow Bird.

We reached the end of the snow covered highway to CalTrans actively clearing the road with heavy equipment. It appeared they had already cleared a mile worth of road… that’s one mile of snow we didn’t have to walk through… I’ll take it.

CalTrans snow removal, Thank you!

Our day continued on the road. We made it through the closed portion of Highway 2 and continued on the road until we reached Inspiration Point. We were cold and tired. The wind was intense and we had little to no cell service. All we could think about was getting down the mountain into Wrightwood.

Snow Bird

A woman named Rebecca was on her way down the mountain with her two dogs when she pulled over to ask if we needed a ride. She couldn’t accommodate us with the dogs also onboard, so she ran home, dropped her dogs off, and returned shortly after to give us a hitch into town. We were extremely grateful!

It had been five days since we had slept in a bed. We were cold and dirty. My hair had never looked so disheveled and I smelled like a true dirtbag hiker. It’s official… I’m one of “them” now. The three of us stayed at Grand Pines Cabins for the night. It was a much needed pampering.


Miles 369.1 – 363.3

Packrat, Bird, and I stayed in Wrightwood for a couple nights. Our plan was to squeeze in the remaining miles of the San Gabriel Mountains over the next two days. Unfortunately, we were again up against the weather.

There were some windows of opportunity where the weather had let up between storm cells, allowing Packrat, Bird, and I to squeeze in a short road hike. We hiked from Inspiration Point to Wrightwood via Highway 2 since the mountain had once again been blanketed by snow.

Wrightwood was full of hikers whom were either sheltering from the snow or heading into it head-on. News within the hiker community travels fast… We were receiving reports of hikers who had slept in a privies (concrete outhouses) to escape the snow. We also heard of hikers whose tents were being filled with snow due to strong winds. And, we heard of bears swiping backpacks from under tent vestibules in the middle of the night. Things were getting interesting.

On our way down the mountain, Packrat and I stopped at the Big Pines Visitor Center. Liz, both a trail angel and volunteer called us into the center to warm-up for a few minutes. She and her fellow volunteers gave us an amazing tour of their facility, which included numerous preserved animals. It was nice for both Packrat and I to see what the local critters look like up close.

North American Black Bear
Thanks Liz and team for the amazing tour.

Our hike was only six miles, but that’s all we could squeeze in before the weather began turning on us. The three of us planned to stay in Wrightwood for one more night before heading into Cajon Pass the following morning. Rain or shine, we were committed to putting this section of trail behind us.

Miles 363.3 – 341.9

We woke-up Sunday morning to clear skies. Rain was expected to roll into the area around noon, so we didn’t have a lot of time to waste. We quickly packed our bags and headed down the mountain towards Cajon Pass.

I saved this little guy from the mud.

The three of us were ecstatic to be finishing this portion of trail. Road walks are fine, but they aren’t nearly as enjoyable as being on trail. We’ve been stressed out for seven days over constant changes and weather challenges. We looked forward to heading north once again.

Packrat, Bird, and I headed towards Cajon Pass via Lone Pine Canyon Road. We had a short climb before the road stretched down into the valley. The weather turned nasty as soon as we left Wrightwood. The sky went dark and the clouds rolled in fast… completely swallowing the landscape and leaving us in thick fog.


It was a cold, damp twelve mile hike into Cajon Pass. I was wearing shorts, which turned out to be a bad idea. I was cold to my core. Despite remaining on the move the entire time, I felt the early stages of hypothermia. It took my body a coupe hours to warm back up even once inside my hotel room.

No More SOBO Blues

We’ve made it back to Cajon Pass… knocking out the nearly 100 mile section that makes up the San Gabriel Mountains. We are now back on track, only having the small section around Mission Creek and Big Bear left to come back to, which we fully plan to do once we reach Kennedy Meadows South . It feels good not having left so much of the trail behind us.

The three of us will hire an Uber driver to take us to Acton, where we hopped on trail at the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains. Our hope is to reach Aqua Dulce where we will get to check out the Hiker Oasis.

Stay tuned. We’re pressing on without a zero day.

Cheers, Smiley

One step at a time.

The REAL Smokey the Bear!

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Comments 3

  • Kolby Kirk : Apr 16th

    Another great entry! Glad you were able to figure out a route through the San Gabriel Mountains! Random fact: all black bears in the San G’s are relatives of 27 Yosemite bears that were captured in the park and released into the mountains in 1933. Thanks to those efforts, the San Gabriels are now home to 700 bears. I lived in hiked in those mouintains for over a decade and only saw two. Happy hiking! ~Condor ’11

  • Laura : May 1st

    Smiley, I LOVE reading your posts!!!! Seriously, I think it’s the best read about the PCT.

    I’m sorta living vicariously through you. I saw the movie WILD (of course!) and thought, “That looks like something really fun and cool to try!” There’s really only two things that I know I just can’t deal with…1) SNAKES! 2) pooping in anything except a real bathroom. Hell, I have a bidet and, honestly, once you have one you can’t shit without it!!!

    I sold my house in San Jose, California and bought a house in Tuolumne, California last May. Interestingly, Kennedy Meadows is very, very close to me. I can’t help but think that’s a sign…?

    Anyway my I’m wishing so, so many good things for you and your group! I’ll be reading and traveling with you…in my mind and heart. Take care and keep these wonderful stories coming! I’m very grateful to you…

    Much love, Laura

    • Smiley : May 1st

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you for the great message. I am so please to hear you have been enjoying the blogs. Packrat, Bird, and I are on our way to KMS and should be there in the next 6-7 days. We’ll have some travel challenges coming up, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
      Stay tuned for more updates on our travels. Maybe we’ll cross paths while in KMS.


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