First Days on the PCT (and My Longest Backpacking Trip Yet)
My first days on the PCT have been more than I ever could have imagined. It began at Scout and Frodo’s with 23 other semi-silent, nervous hikers. Some of them have quickly become my friends, others pleasant people to leapfrog with, and still others I haven’t seen since. I’ve been making daily journal entries and will be composing blogs in town from my notes, and the first week went as follows.
Day One (Miles 0-15.4): Southern Terminus to Hauser Creek
We started the day off at 4:30 a.m. at Scout and Frodo’s. Before the sun was even up, we had our bags on the front porch, fully loaded. We had frittatas and some final conversation before heading out to the trail angels’ cars who would be taking us to the trailhead. Paul, Tim, Claire, and I (all currently without trail names) all rode with Jimmy Jam. Jimmy Jam actually got his trail name from Stephen Colbert, and if you ever have the privilege of meeting him, be sure to ask for the story. After what’s legitimately been years of waiting, we reached the Southern Terminus of the PCT. I let out a yelp; I couldn’t believe it. Was I really here?
The first couple of miles wind through civilization but soon I was in the desert… or was I? This year the desert has so much growth and is SO incredibly green. The hiking is so rewarding, there are views around every corner. I saw a rabbit, a lizard, and lots of little bugs. As I was writing about the day I was camped near a flowing creek as birds chirped all around. There were even some hummingbirds that hung around my tent as well.
I made it 15.4 miles, which was my planned stop, but still felt really good and it was only 2 p.m. I decided to stay anyway so I didn’t push myself too hard right off the bat. Also, the next 4.5 miles were supposed to be a bit of a climb. The next day, I’d climb it and hike into Lake Morena for showers, water, campsites, and most importantly, fresh food. I planned to wake up early (around 5) and get to Lake Morena a a little past 7.
Day Two (Miles 15.4-32): Hauser Creek to Fred Canyon
I woke up at 5:40 a.m. to a damp damp after a drizzle during the night. I packed up and was out of camp by 6:40 to start the climb to Lake Morena. The views were absolutely breathtaking and made the climb feel like nothing; the desert was still cool and cloudy, which also made for a great start to the morning. We arrived in Lake Morena at about 8:30 and stopped for breakfast. The other hikers cooked hot breakfasts while I supplemented the Pop-Tart I already had with some baked cheese. There was also a clean porta potty (hiker trash score). After dumping some trash and some nice conversation, I headed off into the desert again. There were so many rabbits hopping along the trail. This part was a bit boring and flat and passed some roads and some construction. A construction worker asked if I was going all the way to Canada, so I told him that was the plan. The second half of the afternoon was absolutely stunning. There were views for miles and miles and I happy cried again, amazed at how lucky I am to be doing this.
Late in the day and two miles from camp,I stopped at Kitchen Creek, a spot no one else felt like going to because of the steep scramble down to it (and therefore the one back up) but the flowing water looked too inviting to pass up. I went down and soaked my feet in the ice cold water among views so beautiful they hardly seemed real. The scramble up felt like nothing and I did not regret my decision. Spectacular views, and a snake sighting later I made it to Fred Canyon for the night. It soon turned out to be quite the gathering of people as everyone I’ve been hiking with the past couple days trickled in, plus some new faces. We chatted, stretched, and ate. What a lovely, simple life. I didn’t know if it was because I was still so excited, but I truly was not yet feeling the kind of pain I expected from hiking. My back injury was a bit sore, but I felt like I could keep going for days and even go up in mileage.
P.S.: Hobbit was the last to come into camp. He’s attempting the calendar year Triple Crown and that day was his first day on the PCT; he’d already done 1,600 on the AT. Amazing.
Day Three (Miles 32-45.3): Fred Canyon to a Random Campsite on a Ridge
The morning started in the rain but and I packed up completely from inside my tent. Despite the rain and mud I still felt stoked to be on trail. My tent being wet and muddy (again) only meant I was truly out here doing it, regardless of the hardships. Ultrarunners who were doing a casual 25-mile out and back stretch happened to be on the same section of trail as us, which made for muddy going. It was almost a welcome challenge dodging the puddles along the trail. It made getting to Mount Laguna all that much more welcoming and exciting.
Upon arrival, I devoured a salad and pulled chicken sandwich and was happy to have a hot cup of coffee with water I didn’t have to filter. We lounged around until the weather somewhat improved and moved on to the general store, where we bought food to last us to Warner Springs. Claire (now Ashes) and I decided to encourage each other to hike on that evening instead of paying for the campgrounds or a cabin at the lodge, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision. We showered while our things dried in the sun and it was absolutely glorious. We met up with some other thru-hikers before getting back on the trail and decided to go 3.5 miles to my favorite campsite yet. We set up on a ridge with a phenomenal view and I even accidentally found a geocache that’s been there since 2009. I was so content and couldn’t wait for day four.
Day Four (Miles 45.3-59.5): A Random Campsite on a Ridge to a Random Campsite Behind a Parking Lot
The morning started with condensation and a beautiful sunrise. The guys we’d met the night before were out of camp by 5:30, but I lollygagged to let my damp sleeping bag dry and take a time lapse of the sunrise. I ate my breakfast (a 700-calorie banana nut muffin) and basked in the beauty of the ridge we called home the night before. By 7 I was ready to get moving and got on trail.
The morning hike, as usual, consisted of astounding views and a nice surprise of passing mile 50! We lunched, met some new hikers, and let our things dry. Ashes and I seemed to be in it together for the long haul, even though it was only day four. After lunch we came up in perfect time to watch three hang gliders launch into the canyon below; it was absolutely incredible. Just a hop, skip, and a jump across the parking lot from that we encountered our first trail magic. Meanwhile, the cropping we stopped on to watch the hang gliders doubled as a memorial and Ashes, under the advice of PHB, thought she had found another geocache when it was actually someone’s mother’s ashes; hence the new trail name. Anyway, we ate some oranges from Bill (the trail angel) and Ashes ate bits of mom as well, and continued on trail.
My knee started to kill and I shuffled most of the way to Sunrise Highway where there was MORE trail magic. I had two beers and we all decided to camp close by by a water tower because the other nearby camp site had apparently filled up. I was hopeful to let my knee rest and take it easy until Warner Springs. Even when in pain, I’d rather be here than anywhere else in the world.
Day Five (Miles 59.5-77.1): A Random Campsite Behind a Parking Lot to Scissors Crossing
The day started dry and sunny, and early on we knew it would be hot. After filling up for what could be an 18-mile dry stretch I left camp around 8:30. While I was in pain from my knee and already hot from the sun, I tried to focus on the fact that I was still so lucky to be here. We got lucky at mile nine and the cache had water. We passed a guy suffering from dehydration and helped him out. I was slow getting into camp at the end of the day because my knee was in so much pain, and I had a scare that I had poison oak (it turned out to be heat rash). My knee was so swollen and needed to be taken care of in Julian. We cowboy camped under an underpass. I was happy and full but tired from a mentally and physically exhausting day.
Day Six (Miles 77.1-83.1): Scissors Crossing to Another Campsite on a Ridge
Ghost, a trail angel, appeared mystically that morning to give us a ride into Julian, where we got free pie, resupplied some, ate pizza, and drank beer while bonding with other hikers. People in Julian were so incredibly kind (like everyone else on trail), and I iced my knee throughout day. We caught a hitch out of town and watched Game of Thrones under the same underpass we’d slept at the night before. Finally, at 5 p.m., we left for the only five miles we would hike that day and cowboy camped at a lovely spot. Ashes, Stickerz, and I shared stories and friendship over pizza and beer that we’d packed out from Julian. I slept well and woke up to a beautiful sunrise.
Day Seven (Miles 83.1-101.1) Another Campsite on a Ridge to Barrel Springs
The day we hit mile 100, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise after cowboy camping, but I quickly went back to sleep. Obviously, our plan to hike out at 4 a.m. didn’t work out. Hannah, another hiker, left tape for my knee, and it seemed to work well for the rest of the day. We walked to the water cache and took a brief siesta in the shade before continuing another ten miles to the next water. I hiked with Ashes all afternoon and talked about life. When we finally got to camp we enjoyed beer, pretzels, and a huge pool of cool water waiting for us. I washed off days of dirt from my feet and enjoyed a beer with my dehydrated meal I had picked up in Julian.
Unfortunately I spilled the first half, which may have earned me the trail name SOS (soup on sand). Kate has a ginormous blister we are calling little Kate. We planned to hike eight miles into Warner Springs the next day for a much needed nero, laundry, and shower day.
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