Into the Snow: Lake Morena to Mount Laguna
Miles 20 – 41.5
The sun is just coming up as I get to the trail and everything is covered in frost. It’s a beautiful day for hiking and I take some time to get adjusted to the trail life. The trail leaving Lake Morena meanders through a shrubby, chaparral valley. Giant oak trees skirt the southern edge. The trail is wide and flat, speckled with golden glitter that shimmers in the morning sun. Fool’s gold, we would always say as kids; nature’s glitter. Eventually my belongings will be adorned with all of this glitter. It gives the trail a magical feel, absolutely surreal. The birds are singing and there is the unmistakable aroma of sage hanging in the air.
At mile 24.1 Cottonwood Creek is running deep and wide. I have to take off my shoes and pull my pants up to my knees. The water is freezing and my toes are pink and numb as I try to dry them off and scrape the sand out from between my toes.
I was hoping that I would be one of those people that could make it town to town or to campsites with restrooms, making it hundreds of miles without pooping in the woods. That was not the case. Day three and I’m suddenly faced with the reality of what this means. This is something that I’ve been dreading about the trail. Really, the only thing. Surprisingly, I find a quiet private place, dig a cathole, and take care of business. It seemed quite simple and easy, not traumatizing at all. I texted my brother to tell him that I pooped in the woods and he said, “Hell Ya!!! (high five emoji).”
Cottonwood Creek crosses the trail again at mile 25.5. I take off my shoes again, and when I get to the other side and dry off my feet I realize I just feel like sitting in the warm sand and resting. I’m literally just sitting on the ground for about 30 minutes basking in the sun, even though it’s still pretty cold outside. As I’m relaxing a few people pass by and two women—Katie and Karen—sit down to dry off their feet and put their shoes back on. We start talking and it turns out that we started on the same day.
It’s getting close to the stopping point of the day and I’m feeling pretty tired. I have no injuries or blisters at this point, but my legs keep reminding me that they are confused by my sudden interest in hiking all day. My right knee hurts, then it feels better. My left heel hurts, then it feels better. My arches start hurting, then they’re fine. I’m looking for Kitchen Creek at mile 29.8, but somehow I miss it. Once I realize that I’ve passed it, it’s too late to go back. I continue on to Fred Canyon at mile 32, which works out nicely because it’s still early and it’s a really nice camp spot in the woods along the banks of a babbling creek. What I find amusing is when Guthook says (five) tent sites, there are usually about 20. This was the case and there were only four of us setting up camp at the moment. We were able to spread out, each in our own private little cove.
It’s dark now and I’m settled into my sleeping bag watching Jumanji on my phone, when suddenly someone is yelling. I take out my earbuds and listen more carefully. “Hey, can you help me?” I hear; it sounds like an older man with an Australian accent. He’s right outside my tent. I ask him what’s wrong and he said he needed help finding a campsite. I told him that there are many available and asked if he had a headlamp. He said he would need to dig it out of his pack. Next thing you know, there is a light continuously flashing near my tent. He asks again where he should set up his tent. I give him a few suggestions based on my memory of the surrounding area. He decides that right next to my tent will do just fine.
I put my earbuds back in and continue to watch my movie until I fall asleep. Then I hear yelling again. Confused and half asleep, I hear him near my tent again as his headlamp floods the area with light. “What?!” I yell. He wants to know if he should hang his food bag, or if sleeping with it would cause raccoons to try to enter his tent. I tell him I don’t know and good luck. He says he’s too tired to hang his bag. I say, “OK.”
The next day I see him on the trail and he apologizes. I again see him at Mount Laguna and he continues to apologize. He said he was disoriented and had hiked in the dark for an hour.
As I approach Mount Laguna the weather gets cooler. Pine trees are suddenly lining the trail and there is snow on the ground. There are several hikers playing leapfrog and we all end up at Pine House Cafe & Tavern. Then I visit the store and check in to my cabin at Laguna Mountain Lodge. Here I will stay for two nights as a snowstorm blows through.
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Thanks for the detailed updates! Good luck as you head North!