PCT Thru-Hike, Campo to Mount Laguna (Days 1-4): Orientation
I began preparations for my thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in February of 2021. On March 23rd, 2022, I took the first few steps of my continuous journey from Mexico to Canada.
Day 1: Southern Terminus to Mile 11.4 (11.4 miles)
At 8:15 am, my caravan of cars from San Diego reached the Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. My family and friends flocked to the already crowded monument and proceeded to take more pictures than I took at my cousin’s wedding. After writing in the PCT trail log that I didn’t even like walking, I walked away from the people I love the most in the world. And then I started walking to Canada with my hiking partner, Gina, and my PCT poser friend, Allison. Despite miles on the PCT going faster than most, many of them led us south instead of north. I swear half of the first day I was walking back towards that damn fence.
When we reached mile 4.4, the first water source was teeming with hiker trash. We managed to squeeze our way onto some rocks and snacks, overwhelmed by the number of strangers we were surrounded by. It was freshman year all over again, how the hell do you even make friends? I swore I was an extrovert, but nothing made me feel more introverted than my inability to spark even the simplest introductory conversation.
Walking through the foothills of Campo was absolutely gorgeous, but I couldn’t help but think I was only out for a weekend hike in my local wilderness. It’s hard to transition to a thru-hiking mindset when you could drive an hour and be back at home. Regardless, I knew to enjoy the simplicity of not having anything to do other than walk, and not needing to worry about anything other than the trail, in theory.
I ended the day cowboy camping under the stars next to my two best gal pals. It took some peer pressure to lay down without the protection of my Zpacks Plexamid tent knowing the creepy crawlies that live out in the San Diego desert.
Day 2: Mile 11.4 to Lake Morena (10 miles)
Expecting a fairly toasty Southern California day, my group and I left our cowboy camp at 7:30 a.m. in order to reach the climb to Lake Morena before the heat of the day. We reached a road crossing where we met up with three other individuals: a lad from Australia and a couple from Virginia. We all descended down to Hauser Creek Canyon together to take a rest in the shade before tackling the first true climb of the PCT.
After the 1,100-foot ascent up to Lake Morena, we reached the famous Oak Shores Malt Shop, a haven for hiker trash, not for vegans. Once again I was overwhelmed by the number of hikers already segregated at their own dining tables, but felt satisfied simply sitting with the wonderfully familiar faces of Gina and Allison. We stayed at the Malt Shop for four hours, munching on the gas station snacks they offered and mooching off of the free wi-fi they provided.
My mom came to retrieve Allison and drop off vegan bacon burgers from Plant Power, a vegan fast-food chain. There are a few perks to being local! Gina and I returned to the Lake Morena PCT campground, only to find ourselves surrounded by every baby boomer alive. Nonetheless, a difference in age doesn’t make for a boring conversation!
Day 3: Lake Morena to Cibbets Flat Campground (12 miles + 1-mile road-walk)
Waking up once again with the sun, I had to put on my still-damp clothing from the day before when I stepped into the Lake Morena showers fully dressed (on purpose, I wasn’t just that tired). Gina and I hiked towards Kitchen Creek Falls, a local secret that many PCT hikers aren’t fully aware of. Less than a mile north of the PCT’s intersection with Kitchen Creek (dry year-round), local use trails take hikers down the side of a cliff to my favorite watering hole in San Diego. We spent the entire afternoon there, bathing in the frigid snowmelt of Mt. Laguna under the Southern California sun.
Earlier that day, rumors floated around amongst thru-hikers of an alleged thru-hiker barbecue at Cibbets Flat Campground, about a mile off of the PCT. As a vegan, the word ‘barbecue’ didn’t entice me as much as my omnivorous hiking partner, but I agreed to come along for the ride regardless.
We made our ascent out of Kitchen Creek Falls during the heat of the day. Snack breaks had to be done in the shade, otherwise eating even an Oreo was nauseating. After a few dry, but downright gorgeous, uphill miles along the east side of the Laguna Crest, we reached the yellow brick road of the Pacific Crest Trail. We were welcomed at the campsite by trail angel Kathy (Fruitbowl), and she shared that she and her family have been “Feeding the Herd” for 22 years, all out of their own pockets. Not only did they prepare pasta for over 50 hikers, but they also offered a vegan option for all the weirdos like me!
Fruitbowl and her friends wouldn’t let a single dirtbag leave hungry and even offered a place for hikers to camp on their group site. I was speechless by the amount of time and resources these individuals put in to help a few strangers out, and it’s truly magical because it encourages you to pass it forward. The acclaimed culture of kindness on the Pacific Crest Trail is authentic and unmistakable, and it’s even more incredible when you experience it firsthand. I didn’t get to bed until 10 pm that night (well past hiker midnight) because I was so mesmerized by the stories shared by fellow thru-hikers around the campfire. Thank you Fruitbowl, Tacos and Beer, and Linda for the perfect evening on the Pacific Crest Trail!
Day 4: Cibbets Flats Campground to Mount Laguna
After a long evening, the entire group campground still woke up punctually with the sun. A professor at an adjacent campground, completely unassociated with the trail angels from the previous night, offered to take hikers back to the trail in his eight-person van, despite being on a field trip with his college students. Hikers flocked to his car, eager to avoid the mile-long uphill road walk. Gina and I caught the last ride out around 7:45 a.m. with eleven other hikers. You don’t know body odor until you’ve been crammed in an eight-person van with eleven PCT thru-hikers. The poor professor didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
Once again, the Pacific Crest Trail provided gorgeous lengths of trail. At mile 39 we entered our first pine forest, and the overwhelming smell of pine got my tail wagging for the tree-covered sections that lie further north. We reached the Pinehouse Cafe at Mt. Laguna at 11:30 am, only to find it overflowing with hiker trash. I’m sure any Mt. Laguna tourist must find the massive wall of ultralight backpacks and smelly, scruffy hikers to be overwhelming, but I find comfort in the conglomeration of people who all share a single goal: get to Canada.
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