From Campo to Julian (days 1-6)

The Goal

I started the PCT with no exact timeline of how fast I need to hike or “I need to be to x location by x date”. In my normal life, I usually plan things down to the minute, so this was a new concept for me.

But the main reason is I simply have no idea what to expect out here: how fast do I hike compared to others, how will my body hold up, what will the weather or other forces be like?

I did have a goal in mind to not push too hard on week 1. I didn’t have a definition of how much “too hard” would be. I just knew I didn’t want to start out by injuring myself. So, the plan was: to allow myself to move slowly and be alright without gaining many miles to show for it.

Day 1: Southern Terminus!

Day 1: 15.4 miles

Campo to Hauser Creek

On day 1, I started out doing a good job of taking a break every hour or two. I would often take my socks off to let my feet breathe and make sure everything was feeling alright. I was also getting a good bit of sand in my shoes, so I made sure to take them off and shake them out frequently.

You already know the rest of my day 1 – overall, a surprisingly comfortable 15.4 miles. At this point, I could begin to tell that I was going to go faster than many other people out here.


Day 2: 10.6 miles

Hauser creek (15.4) to boulder oak campground (26.0)

After the 6 am pancakes the day before, I allowed myself a lazier start on day 2. There was a pretty decent climb up out of Hauser Creek to get the blood flowing in the morning. But it was made easier by the fact that the Lake Morena Grocery Store was only 5 miles away, famous among PCT hikers for burgers and milkshakes.

Enjoying a vanilla milkshake in Lake Morena on day 2.

I rolled into town with a new friend, Justin, right about noon, perfect time for a bacon cheeseburger and a vanilla shake. It’s nice that the PCT gets to a town on day 2 so that you’re still spoiled and used to real food, not as dependent on the dehydrated meals and ramen right away.

There were a few other PCT hikers sitting outside when I got there, and more continued to trickle in and out as I ate. We exchanged introductions if we hadn’t met yet, talked about the journey so far, and then started looking ahead to the week.

It was already Wednesday and it looked like a storm was going to roll in by Saturday. If you wanted to make town to avoid the storm, the options were Mount Laguna, about 22 miles ahead, or Julian, about 57 miles ahead.

Most people decided not to push their bodies, or their luck, and make it an easy couple days into Mount Laguna to wait out the storm. We started looking at places to stay there, accommodations were filling up quickly.

I was about to go in with a group of people and get beds at a hostel, until I really looked at the restaurants and other options in Julian – and made a bold decision to push miles in my first week and head for the further town.

I didn’t get back on trail out of Lake Morena until almost 3, it’s apparently too easy to get sucked into the human comforts of town. Luckily, it was only a few more miles to make Boulder Oaks Campground for the night.

Boulder Oaks was a lovely campground with a nice site specifically for PCT hikers. We enjoyed the comforts of 2 picnic tables to make dinner and hang out at.

2 picnic tables full of PCT hikers at Boulder Oaks Campground. If you look closely, I’m holding Thor’s hammer in this photo.

As my friend Justin was setting up his tent for the night, I was alerted to the fact that he was carrying a hammer in his pack. He carries it to pound in the large stakes for his tarp tent. Granted, it’s not the wood handled kind – it is an ultralight version made for backpacking. But it’s still a highly unusual item for a PCT hiker to be carrying.

We poked a little fun at him for carrying the hammer. Then we decided to make something out of the story and give him the trail name “Thor”. Thus, I witnessed my first trail name being born.

I was then surprised with my first trail magic. As we sat around eating and chatting, a car pulled up to our campsite and out came 2 men with a cooler full of cold beer & soda and some homemade cookies. The 2 trail angels also just hiked the PCT themselves last year. They had great stories and advice to share with all of us PCT hopefuls.

A morning break in the sun with Thor, Philosopher, and Chris.

Day 3: 15.5 miles

Boulder oak campground (26.0) to burnt ranchería (41.5)

After leaving the campground in the morning, I leap-frogged with a couple hikers before settling into step with Thor for a bit. He mentioned checking out a side trail that went down to  a waterfall and I was on board.

We soon found the side trail to Kitchen Creek Waterfall, grabbed our beers we had packed out from the trail angels, dropped our packs, and headed down. It was a short but steep quarter mile down to the falls.

Enjoying a beer at Kitchen Creek with Thor.

It was a quaint but beautiful set of waterfalls. The water was cool but felt good on hot feet. We scrambled around some of the rocks, cracked our beers, and took short sun naps. The whole thing was delightful.

Eventually, we remembered our goal to make Julian before the storm and figured we needed to get back on trail.

The rest of the day was pretty hot, but beautiful as I made my way up in elevation to get onto Mount Laguna. The flora noticeably changed from primarily chaparral to my first pine trees of the trail.

Up into the pines outside Mount Laguna.

I made it into Burnt Ranchería Campground just in time to set up my tent before the sunset. I then decided to take the short walk into the town of Mount Laguna for some food (again, the PCT spoils you with town stops in the first 100 miles – don’t get used to it).

I was happy to see Thor catch up to me and join me in town for pizza and a beer. At this point, the number of beers I drank on trail outpaced the number of days I had been out there.


Day 4: 22.1 miles

Burnt ranchería (41.5) to mile 63.6

While in Mount Laguna, we checked the weather again and the storm coming in wasn’t looking any better. With that reality set in, I knew I needed to push as many miles as I could to lessen the time in the storm tomorrow.

I knew a couple hikers were just ahead of me on trail, and I knew Thor was a bit behind, but this day was my first that was not full of leap-frogging. I actually didn’t see another PCT hiker until after 5 pm when I finally caught up to someone who had set up camp.

It was a bit weird to be hiking alone all day, especially after getting used to talking to and meeting so many new people every day. But it was also nice to have that time to myself. I was able to just purely focus on walking. I checked on how my feet felt, how hungry or thirsty I was.

I also had time to mentally check in with myself. Do I enjoy hiking alone or with people? Am I going to be able to continue walking like this day after day? Am I missing out on things at home? If I put earbuds in and listen to music, will I automatically be bit by a rattlesnake?

Already 52 miles away from Mexico, progress!

I passed 50 miles which felt like a huge milestone. Shortly after that, someone had written 2% in the sand, which really put the progress of the trip into perspective.

Before the PCT, my longest backpacking trip was just 33 miles over 2 nights. I was already getting close to doubling that.

It had been windy all day, and it especially started to pick up in the evening. I checked the FarOut app and realized that there was a campsite at the end of a 1000 foot elevation drop that would probably be much more protected from the wind, and decided to push there.

I made it before the sun set and found that multiple other hikers had the same idea as me. I set up my tent next to a lovely couple, Annette & Links (Links had just recently received his trail name due to the chain links printed on his gaiters).

I hiked 22.1 miles that day, which is likely the farthest I have ever walked in a day. The elevation drop at the end of the day made my right knee ache a little bit. But overall, my body was feeling good. I began to realize that if you wake up and walk for almost 12 hours a day, 20+ miles is surprisingly easy to achieve.

A nice camp with other hikers.


Day 5: 13.7 miles

mile 63.6 to Julian (77.3)

We woke to gray skies and the start of the storm. Thankfully, our camp spot was just wind protected enough that I wasn’t worried about my tent blowing away as I carefully packed everything up. I then donned my rain gear and headed out to face the storm.

It was mostly just windy for the first hour or so. Depending where I was on a ridge line, some gusts were so strong that they attempted to use the weight of my backpack to push me over. I found a position with my trekking poles braced at an angle in front of me and my back to the wind that would prevent me from falling off the mountain.

At least the rain and wind storm made for a beautiful rainbow.

An hour or so in, the rain really picked up and quickly became quite unbearable. The wind and rain together did short work of soaking through my gloves and shoes. I was attempting to figure out how to wear my rain jacket over my fanny pack but under the hip belt of my backpack, so water also found its way into the waistline of my pants which was uncomfortable.

Those 13.3 miles were simply miserable, but I kept pushing on because I knew at the end that I would find my way into town to get warm and dry. I also walked part of that day with Links & Annette and we really hit it off. It was pleasant to chat with them between the gusts of wind.

We eventually made it to the highway underpass they call Scissors Crossing, which is where you can hitch to get into the town of Julian. I took refuge under the bridge, which was protected from the rain but still too cold for me to dry out and warm up.

I waited for Thor to catch up, and also met a new hiker named Alex. The three of us were able to hitch into Julian together and stop at the Julian Beer Co for warm food and beer. My toes and fingers regained their feeling, and I was so thankful to be in town and out of the storm.

Still freezing cold, enjoying a beer with Alex and Thor.

I then had to part ways with my first trail friend. Thor was set to pick up his car here in Julian and take a temporary break from the trail to go see the eclipse in Texas with family. He was calling this first week on trail his “shakedown”, so we’ll see if he actually keeps the hammer with him the rest of the trail or not.

We exchanged numbers so that we could keep in touch and keep each other updated on sections of trail. Thor was planning to take a little over a week’s break from the trail, so who knows where I will be when he gets back on. But hopefully we run into each other again down the line.


Day 6: 0 miles ! 


I had no idea when I would need or want to take my first “zero” day on the PCT. But the weather and circumstances resulted in my first zero being taken on day 6 in Julian. Annette, Links, Alex, and I were able to split  a hotel for the weekend. It felt so nice to have our first showers, laundry, and beds to sleep in.

Luckily, Julian is a cute town with many restaurants and pie shops that is known to be PCT friendly. One in particular, Mom’s Pies, is famous for giving PCT hikers a free slice of pie and warm drink when you show your permit. The pie, ice cream, and drink were all delicious and the kindness is just amazing.

Free pie and ice cream at Mom’s Pies in Julian.

We’re gonna call it a success

The goal of not pushing “too hard” during week 1? I think I mostly accomplished this. I probably shouldn’t have done 22 miles in one day. But 77 miles over 5 days is an average of 15.4, which I feel pretty good about. Most importantly, I didn’t injure myself and I was learning what my body is capable of.

My body felt good, I was figuring out how I like to pack and carry my gear comfortably, and I was making friends and enjoying my time outdoors. Overall, I would say it was a very successful first week on trail.

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Comments 2

  • Yam : Apr 20th

    BTW, deserts are characterized by their dry environments, while chaparrals are characterized by the presence of shrubs.” They are not the same and there is no desert chaparral. Thanks

  • Amy Shore : Apr 28th

    Have you gotten a cool trail name yet?


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