In The Blink of 5 Days

I hopped off the bus at San Diego Old Station and looked around, trying to get my bearings. I went under a tunnel and came up the other side where I must’ve stood for a second too long, looking confused. A homeless male looked at me and asked ,”Are you hiking the PCT?”. I nodded, and he responded with,” In those clothes?”. Before I had time to respond, he added, ” Shuttle comes and picks all of you up under that beat-up sign,” and walked off…

Seconds before boarding the train to get to San Diego Old Station.

My PCT journey began the next day…

At CLEEF campground, which is located less than .5 miles from the Southern Terminus. I packed my backpack in the morning and headed to the communal area for hikers. I greeted another hiker I met the day before on the PCT Southern Terminus Shuttle – the only other hiker on the shuttle. He completed over 2000 miles of the PCT in 2019 and was back to complete the miles he missed. Though as many thru hikers who missed sections and come back and complete the trail do, he missed trail life and was more than eager to do the trail from the start. Knowing his experience definitely pulled me to stay close to him, along with his gentle, caring, friendly demeanor. And so together, we walked up to the Southern Terminus, where we checked in with the PCTA, grabbed our tag, and took our pictures. Shortly after, we officially started our hike north… only 2650 miles to Canada! 

My picture at the Southern Terminus, the Wall and with Bacon – PCT class of 2019

The day before we started…

Brought a ton of rain, so many hikers waited at CLEEF campground and started a day later. The trail was busy, and shortly after, we were joined by two other hikers – a father and son from Canada. The PCT had been on the father’s list, and the son was more than eager to join his father when asked. Before we knew it, we were at the 1 mile marker… then the 3 mile marker… and soon, the wall was barely visible to us. 

3mile marker… maybe I can hitch a ride on the train to Canada?

Our first day on the trail…

Was beautiful. The sun was shining, skies were clear, there was a soft breeze, and it was green everywhere. Flowers are starting to bloom, and seeing what mother nature does when left on her own is amazing. Water was plenty until about mile 6 where we had to do our first big water carry for camp and morning the next day. I ended up carrying 5 liters of water. On our first day, we completed 11.4 miles before setting up our tents. We were eventually surrounded by other hikers, and all made small, awkward, just getting to know each other talk before calling it a day and getting some rest. 

Starting top left to right – succulent, flowers from the yucca plant, view looking towards the Southern Terminus/the wall, and night 1 campsite at mile 11.4

Day 2 – Lake Morena

We woke up early on the 2nd day, and one by one, we started our hike into Lake Morena, where we knew the Malt Shop was waiting for us. From our campsite, it was about 8.6 miles to Lake Morena. The climb up and over was a little tough for day 2. Starting at mile 11.4, you descend into Hauser Creek first, which is about a 1000-foot descent. From Hauser Creek to Lake Morena is a little over an 1100-foot climb before coming to a beautiful view of the lake. 

First view of (part) Lake Morena after ascending out of Hauser Creek

I arrived at the Malt Shop at about 12:30pm. I ordered a cheeseburger with a root beer float. I know… the whole point of a Malt Shop is the malts… but that root beer float was the best one I’ve had in a while. Soon, other hikers started arriving, and a good group sat outside the Malt Shop, enjoying lunch and chatting. I sat for about an hour and a half before continuing to the next campsite at mile 23. This campsite required another 5 liter water carry for dinner and the following morning. It was empty, with only two other hikers in sight – a male from Germany who was set up amongst the bushes and a female from Australia, who I ended up chatting with a few times thru out our stay at this site. The views from Lake Morena at sunset were stunning. 

Hikers outside the Malt Shop, enjoying lunch

Looking towards Lake Morena at sunset

Day 3

On day 3, we had an easy mileage day – 9 miles – but a tough climb again, this time heading to Mount Laguna. The walk to the Fred Canyon Tentsite (mile 32) passed through and near private properties, a few that had cows grazing and starring as I passed. It took us under two bridges and what was our first stream crossing via previously placed balanced log. 

Starting at top – right to left – Bridge at mile 24.1 – Buckman Springs Road, Hannah from Australia ctossing the stream at bridge mile 24.1, Grazing and starring cows, Bridge at mile 26.6 – Interstate 8 Underpass

This was also the day we had our first Trail Magic encounter. As we sat for a minute from a long climb at Kitchen Road (mile 30.2), a vehicle drove by and quickly pulled over. A woman stepped out of the vehicle and called at us, asking if we wanted cookies and candy. She had just come out of her own backpacking trip and had quite a bit of leftover snacks. Easy to say, we did not say no. We thanked her over and over and asked for a picture. We said thanks again, and all continued on our way – us back to trail, our spontaneous and greatly appreciated trail angel back home. 

Bacon (PCT class of 2019), Hannah, Trail Angel K, and myself

Fred Canyon Tensite proved to be a busy one. We were some of the first few hikers to arrive and, by the end of the night, had nearly a dozen tents on the site and more than a dozen hikers. Hikers from everywhere – the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, the UK, Canada, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, California, Vermont, and more. Hikers with one goal in mind… getting to Canada… safely and in due time. And so… talks about a big storm coming in began and would continue on day 4 and day 5… 

Proof that my Helinox Chair is being put to great use (and I’m not alone in the chair game!)

Day 4 and 5 

Day 4 and 5 have been our longest days so far, in terms of mileage. We averaged roughly 15 miles each day after coming to a decision that we would find an Airbnb in Julian and wait out the weekend storm until Monday morning. This decision was tough for many of us as we had not anticipated getting off the trail or taking one, let alone two zero days so early into our trek. (Zero days – no on trail mileage completed). But we knew hiking in the rain and/or snow is no fun, and we decided to hunker down. 

Hiking into Mount Laguna. Small patches of snow on the way into town.

Day 4 was an early start as we would climb into Mount Laguna, and most of us would stop for lunch and a resupply before continuing to camp. At this point we had not decided on the Airbnb and so we filled our packs back up for an expected 3/4 day trek to our next stop after lunch at The Outpost (hot wings were bomb!).  This day, we hiked to mile 47.4 and exited at Storm Canyon Trailhead, where we stayed at Laguna Campground. This is where discussions of what the next plan would be took place. In the end, it was decided an Airbnb would be booked for the weekend. I was able to find a ride for the following afternoon for our group via the facebook page for Julian PCT Trail Angels – shout out to Ghost (donation based). 

View from Storm Canyon Overlook

Campsite at Laguna Campground

On Day 5, we started about 7am and hit the 50 mile marker by 8:30am. We still had over 10 miles to go. Luckily, the elevation for the day was more hiking down than up. We reached Pioneer Mail Picnic Area (mile 53.7), where we stopped for restrooms, snacks, and water from a less than attractive basin. After filtering the water, we continued to Kwaaymii Point, which felt like an eerie and dark section of the PCT as there are numerous death markers set in the rock. I tried googling the history of Kwaaymii Point and the deaths but was unable to find clear, solid information that I would feel comfortable passing on. I did find out that it used to be the old Sunrise Highway, which explained the asphalt and retaining walls on the path. 

Starting top left to right – 50 mile marker, water basin, retaining wall, memorial/death markers

Our plan for this day was to get to mile 62.4, where we would take a side trail that added an additional mile and exit at the Pedro Fages Monument on the Sunrise Highway. We arrived at about 3 pm where our trail angel and ride into Julian was already waiting for us. Seriously… big shout out to Ghost. He is such a blessing to have around the Julian area – he shuttled our group of 8 in two trips and provided great stories on the ride into town. 

On the hike out to meet our trail angel

Julian and Pies

We arrived at Julian and were more than happy to have a roof, couches, beds, SHOWERS, and all these comforts we take for granted. We waited for our second part of the group to come in, and our first stop was, of course… Mom’s Pies. Where pies are delicious (and free!) for PCT hikers. 

Cherry apple pie with crumbled top

Our group enjoying well-deserved slices of pie after a long day

And just like that…

Our first 5 days on trail were completed. In the blink of an eye, 5 days come and gone. I look around and while I don’t fully understand yet how 8 different hikers, who met in a span of 5 days, agreed to stay in tight quarters in an Airbnb, I am thankful and feel lucky. I am thankful that we are not hiking in rain or snow. I am thankful that we have somewhere dry to stay, rest and recover, do laundry, shower, and eat till we can’t anymore. I am thankful to have been able to enjoy 5 beautiful days on the trail with so much seen and done already, even though we still have a long way to go for our final destination. I feel lucky to have met Bacon at the start of the PCT and having him let me stick around. I feel lucky to have met Phillip from Germany, Hannah from Australia, Taime and Dhijk from Netherlands, Mark from Nebraska, and Cory from Minnesota on different parts of the trail. I feel lucky to have met all the other hikers whom we have met quickly but connected with. I know this may not be the family that hikes with me for the rest of the remaining several thousand miles left. But the connection and memories made in these past few days are ones I will cherish for years to come. But for now… I think we all are ready for some rest and relaxation while the storm passes.  

Two days to get to know the world in a neat little Airbnb and make memories that will help carry me through this trail… 

Just some hikers waiting the storm in Julian

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 3

  • Chris : Apr 2nd

    Great post, and off to an even better start.

  • Jeff Greene : Apr 2nd

    I’m a SoCal resident and avid day hiker, car camper, and occasional weekend backpacker who likes to live vicariously through these PCT journals, and I’ve done that stretch by Mt Laguna a few times. The memorial appears to have started as tributes to members of a local motorcycle club that rides through there a lot, but seems to have grown to other memorials by others who just decided it was a good location. Kinda weird, but definitely interesting! Good luck on your journey!

  • Betty : Apr 3rd

    That Bacon 🥓 guy is a pretty good one, and you described him perfectly. He’s my big brother and he sent me a link to your blog. Thanks for the updates! I’ll be following for more and stay safe and warm out there!


What Do You Think?