Weeks 4-5: Big Bear to Tehachapi
Day 22: Mile 306 to Cleghorn Picnic Area (22 Miles)
We packed up camp and hiked two miles to Deep Creek Hot Springs. My toe looked good as new in the morning so I figured it would be safe to get in the hot spring. I didn’t know what to expect, and since I grew up with pristine hot springs in the Eastern Sierra I lowered my expectations. I was surprised. These hot springs were brilliant! There were many different pools. Shallow ones you could sit in and deep ones you could tread water in. Even some you could hop into the river from. We all took our stinky, hiking clothes off and enjoyed the springs for about an hour and a half until we had to keep going. We still had 20 miles to the picnic area we planned to camp at. We heard you could get pizza delivered there, so we were motivated.
The day was mostly downhill so it wasn’t to hard, just long. There were a few river crossings. We saw a big, angry rattlesnake we had to walk around. There was trail magic at a road crossing.
By the last few miles I was more than ready to stop. I took a long break while some of my trail family went ahead to order the pizza. When they got there they told me through text that there was more trail magic, and they had BEER. I jogged the last few miles to get there as fast as I could.
There were 30ish hikers enjoying trail magic at the picnic area. Some hikers from last year had brought beer, fruit, and were grilling hot dogs. I ate my heart out while we waited for our pizza and loved on a doggo named Dino.
The rangers came into camp and told us we had to pay to camp and walk 1.5 off trail to the campground. As one could predict everyone groaned about this and reluctantly bought permits. After the pizza came we hobbled over to the campground and set up camp right as it began to rain.
Day 23: Cleghorn Picnic Area to Mile 347 (19 Miles)
We fell asleep to rain and woke up to it too. Around 7 a.m. I heard a break in the rain and hurried to pack up camp and get my rain gear on. It was supposed to rain all day so I was ready for the worst. I put my Big Bird poncho on and left. It was hard to find trail because we had hiked to the campground in the dark. Once I got oriented and started up trail it stopped raining for the rest of the day.
I spent the 14 miles walking to the McDonald’s at highway 15 alone. It was nice because I was tired and cold and had to work myself out of a funk. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t psyched, and that was new.
When I got to McDonald’s I was so hangry and tired from fighting the wind from the incoming storm. I ordered a fish sandwich, large fries and large Coke. I ate that in minutes and then went back and ordered a medium fry and an apple pie. I also filled up my Coke again. I sat with other hikers as the food coma took over. We watched hikers wander in and out for the next two hours.
By 3 p.m. we were ready to leave. We packed up and all packed out water for the dry stretch up Cajon Pass. We hiked another windy 5.7 miles out and made camp.
Day 24: Mile 347 to Wrightwood via Highway 2 (22 Miles)
We were hiking by 6 a.m. We all could see the mountain we would have to climb that day and slowly walked towards it. Fifteen miles uphill with 5,500 feet of elevation gain. It was a chilly day with sporadic cloud cover that made climbing much more enjoyable.
The climb turned out to be a piece of cake. We were at the top by 2 p.m. and only two miles from our intended camp spot. We decided since it was early in the day and cold as all hell at the top that we should hike into town.
The walk into town proved to be the hardest part of the day. We were up in a cloud so we couldn’t see more than 20 feet ahead and there was slushy snow all over the trail from the last storm. Worse than this was the ice that kept falling from the trees. The trees were covered in ice chunks from the wet wind and because the temperature was a little above freezing they were shedding this ice quickly. As we walked big chunks would fall around us or set off chain reactions within the tree. It felt like it was hailing.
We got to the road at about 5:30 p.m. and there was another group waiting to hitch in. They said they had only seen one car. Another group rolled up and waited with us. Thirteen hikers on the side of a cold, misty road didn’t scream good luck to me, but I guess it looks better than one hiker on the side of a misty road. That might give off more murder vibes. After 20 or so minutes of calling trail angels in town and contacting other hikers in town a few cars started passing and slowly picking us up.
We all met in front of the hardware store. We called every trail angel and hotel in town. All full. We decided to call Bud Pharm, a local grow house that hosted hikers. To our delight, they said yes!
Knowing we had somewhere to stay we headed over to The Yodler for beers and $1.50 tacos. The place was packed. After two beers and six tacos we were ready to leave and find a hitch to Bud Pharm. We were leaving when a hiker told us of a trail angel in town who had space left. We walked over to his place and we were welcomed to a warm house, beer, and a comfy floor. I took a shower and fell asleep dry and warm for the first time in days.
Day 26: Highway 2 to Little Jimmy Camp (10 Miles)
We woke up and got laundry going immediately. Andrew, Janet, and Wolf watched Game of Thrones while I went to the coffee shop to call my parents and Lily. They met me there, and my cousin who lives in Wrightwood joined in for a little too. From here we got groceries at the store in town, got a PCT pin from the hardware store for signing their trail register, and headed back to the trail angel’s home to pack up.
It was 2 p.m. before we were ready to head out. We decided to try to tackle a summit of Baden-Powell that day because the weather looked like it would only get worse the next day. We started walking toward the store when an old man pulled over and offered us a ride. We got it and quickly discovered that we were more scared of the old man’s driving than the weather ahead.
After a gut-wrenching ride up the mountain we started up Baden-Powell. The fog was thick up until about a mile in. We walked out of the cloud to a sunny day. Still a bit cold and windy but at least we could see!
The snow on the way up wasn’t bad. We did it together and made good time to the summit. At the summit we decided to not hang out too long because the weather was rolling in. We got back on trail and found out that although the snow on the way up wasn’t bad, the snow going farther down trail was really bad. The trail was hard to find and super slick. Both Janet and Andrew slid off trail. I fell a few times as well but didn’t slide down as far as they did. On top of this it was also cold and windy. I couldn’t feel my hands and the skin on my legs burned as the cold bit at it. We were all starting to push past our comfort limits. By 6 o’clock we still had seven more miles left. We had no idea if the trail was going to get any better or how cold it would get. We put our heads down and kept pushing on.
The only good thing to come out of our hike down was the sunset. I was so miserable I forgot why I was out there. I wasn’t appreciating anything around me but when Andrew and I were on the ridge when we finally remembered to look up. The sunset brought me to tears. I remembered why I was out there. I remembered that there will always be lows among the highs.
We made it to Little Jimmy Campground by 8:30. It had just gotten dark. There were about 30 other tents and some hikers around a fire. First thing we did was have a group hug accompanied by a few sobs. It had been a really rough few hours for everyone. Once we got that out of our system we set up camp and made dinner. Then it was off to bed for a cold night.
While falling asleep I thought a lot about how much worse things could have gone on the mountain. We started late. Took our chances with the weather. Didn’t look to see what snow conditions were like after the summit. It was a big wake-up call for going forward into the Sierra.
Day 26: Little Jimmy Campground to Mile 404 (20 Miles)
We didn’t set alarms the night before. The day had been so hard and emotionally draining we just wanted to sleep. The night was freezing. There was a low of 25 degrees. No one wanted to leave their tents but by 8 a.m. we were off.
The day stared off pretty relaxed. It was cold but nothing crazy. We arrived to a closed section of trail due to endangered frogs and stared down a detour that required a road walk. While on the road it started to snow. Softly at first, but then it started coming down fast and hard. It stung as it hit my legs and it was hard to see anything. We kept trudging through the snow and laughing at our luck. At one point a snowplow almost took us out. Eventually we dropped enough elevation and the snow let up. We got back on trail and were rewarded by hitting the mile 400-mile mark. We took a late lunch after this and then walked the rest of the way to camp.
Day 27: Mile 404 to Mile 425 (21 Miles)
It rained overnight again. We managed to get out of camp by 7 a.m. regardless of the cold. It started pouring right as we started walking. A few miles in we ate breakfast under a tree that offered some shelter. From here I went into turbo mode and started walking as fast as I could to stay warm. About seven miles in I needed to collect enough water at a spring to get me through the rest of the day, cook at camp, and a few miles in the morning. It seemed silly to be hauling a crap ton of water over a “dry stretch” while it was pissing out but that was what had to happen.
The rain stopped a few miles after this. The sun even poked through. Andrew eventually caught up to me while I was taking a rest and enjoying the break in the weather. We hiked down to the highway where we took lunch. After lunch we hiked another six miles to what was supposed to be camp. It was an exposed tent site on the top of a ridge. Wet wind was whipping over it. We decided to hike a mile more to lose elevation and get out of the wind. Now we are all camped on the side of a dirt road hiding in our tents. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny.
Day 28: Mile 425 to Mile 444 (19 Miles)
We woke up to frozen tents. We were supposed to leave at 7 a.m. but didn’t leave until 8 a.m. We were all too busy drying our tents out and basking in the first rays of sun we’d seen in days.
We had a pleasant morning walking. It was cool enough that we weren’t sweating but warm enough that we were in our normal hiking attire. We took our time. Taking breaks without worrying about get cold or everything getting wet. It was glorious. We arrived at the ranger station at 1 p.m. and were happy to donate in order to snag a cold soda. We laid all of our belongings out to dry while we took a long lunch.
At 3 we decided we had been there long enough and set out on the last nine miles to camp. They went quickly. We all talked about our families and the sports we had tried and failed at. We talked about summers growing up and our first jobs.
The last three miles dragged on but eventually we made it to the river where we planned on camping. We started by soaking our feet and washing our legs off. Then we got to making camp and dinner. I tried my first ramen bomb (ramen and instant potato mixed). It wasn’t the worst thing in the world but I wouldn’t seek it out again. I topped it off with a candy bar and gummy worms.
Now I am in my tent. Almost too warm and completely dry. We can hear the road and trains but it’s mixed with the pleasant sound of crickets and frogs. It’s starting to feel like summer.
Day 29: Mile 444 to Hiker Heaven (10 Miles)
We woke up soaked again. That’s what you get for camping near water. But it didn’t matter, we only had ten miles to Hiker Heaven. Hiker Heaven is a trail angels’ home in Agua Dulce. They open it up to thousands of hikers a season for laundry, showers, charging, sleeping, and just a damn good time.
The ten miles there felt like forever. I finished the first Harry Potter book as I walked through Vasquez Rocks. Andrew and I got to town first and met his brother, who is going to join him for a few days. Then Jan and Wolf came. We all got Mexican food and margaritas. It was the first time I stuck to my dietary restrictions in town and I felt GREAT because of it!
We went to the liquor store to get beer and then started walking toward Hiker Heaven. It’s only a mile off trail but luckily we got a hitch in with someone helping the Saufleys (trail angels).
The setup at the house was flawless. We were greeted with smiles and a permit check. Next I picked up my resupply box and unpacked that. I had a cute note from my mom and a letter and watercolor drawing of a marmot from Lily. Then it was off to shower and get laundry done. After that I said goodbye to Andrew and his brother. They couldn’t stay because his brother didn’t have a permit.
I spent the rest of the day petting the horses, talking to other hikers, and stretching. Frisky and Chuck showed up midday, which was a lovely surprise.
Day 30: Mile 454 to Casa De Luna (24 Miles + 1 Mile Road Walk)
I was going to leave Hiker Heaven really early, but sleeping in was too tempting. I said goodbye to Jan and Wolf, who had gotten up to pee but didn’t know their plan for the day yet. I didn’t end up leaving Agua Dulce until 8 a.m. It started raining right as I started.
The hike out of Hiker Heaven is a one-mile road walk back to trail and then more road walking. I spent this time walking with other people and talking to distract myself from the pressure of a big-mile day in the rain.
Once on the actual dirt trail the miles started flying by regardless of the weather pummeling me. I listened to Harry Potter and took it mile by mile. It was pissing out so it was hard to take breaks. I fast walked and snacked the whole time.
The weather broke long enough to eat lunch with another group of hikers and then it was back to it. By the time I got to the road to hitch into Casa De Luna I was drenched.
Some other hikers and I got a hitch no problem but then got pulled over because we were riding in the back of the truck, which is apparently illegal in California. Our hitch didn’t get a ticket; we all just had to move into the truck.
He dropped us off right at Casa De Luna. It’s similar to Hiker Heaven because it’s a trail angel’s house but different because it’s much more relaxed. It’s a place party if that’s your thing; eat, and camp. No laundry or showers or such.
The front of the house had canopies up with 40 or so people cowering under them to stay dry. Out back there is a huge magnolia forest full of camp spots. It’s like a maze. Around every tree there are colorful painted rocks and weird signs. You could easily get lost.
Andrew found me right as I got in and helped me set up my tent. After I dried off and set up we went to hang out with the other hikers in front of the house. Soon after came dinner (taco salad) and dancing. The owner makes you dance in order to receive your traditional PCT bandanna.
Since it was a long day I decided to retire right after I got mine. I wish I had the energy and warmth to stay up and experience more of this wonderful place but I think I will take a half day here in the morning and head out around noon.
Day 31: Casa De Luna to Mile 493 (15 Miles)
I woke up to Andrew tapping on my tent telling me we would miss breakfast if I didn’t get up. I hobbled my way through the twisted magnolia forest to the house where I gorged myself with pancakes and coffee.
After breakfast Andrew sat in the yard. I found a hammock and lay back in it gazing into the oak trees. Finally after what felt like the first time I had been still in ages I got up to paint a rock. The magnolia forest was full of slabs of rocks other hikers had pained and I felt the need to contribute. I painted a slice of pizza.
After this we returned to our things that were drying out in the back yard. Once we deemed them dry enough we packed up at set off by noon.
I was slow going due to the 25-mile day before but eventually got to camp after 15 miles. We had left our hiker bubble and were only seeing new people or people we hadn’t seen in ages.
Day 32: Mile 493 to Hiker Town (25 Miles)
Andrew and I left camp at 6:30 a.m. It was wonderful waking up to dry tents. It was the first night it hasn’t rained in a while. We packed up and started walking down toward the Mojave Desert in the cool morning air.
The landscape was different than I expected. We were following the ridges of the foothills down but instead of cactus and yucca, like I expected, there were oak trees and the forest floor was a lush green. We hiked in the shade all morning, taking breaks whenever we pleased.
Sometime in midmorning we started hiking with an 18-year-old kid named Prom King. We’d run into him a few times before. We knew we were going to hit mile 500 soon so we played The Proclaimers song 500 Miles all the way to the marker.
After that the day wasn’t as exciting.
After lunch we descended out of the oaks and into what looked like the desert again. We were hot and our feet started to ache.
We finally made it to Hiker Town at around 5:30. It’s considered a hostel but it’s a hiker-style version. Cheap, minimal, and very strange. It’s western themed and resembles a old western Main Street that’s falling apart. With this being said it’s still pretty neat. Each “storefront” is a room. Unfortunately they were all full so we set up out back.
Andrew and I, as well as some other hikers, wanted a ride to a small nearby market for dinner and drinks. We got a ride from the store owner and the others took the hostel’s beatup old, white van.
I ordered a bacon cheese burger and onion rings and wasn’t disappointed. We sat with a group we had been seeing a lot. There were Silverback, Jack, Mara, Daniel, and Troy. We ended up riding back with them in the sketch white van. Exhaust poured into the cab while the car sputtered and semi trucks cruised past us.
We made it back in one piece as well as a little bit fuller and got ready to tackle the LA Aqueduct the next day.
Day 33: Hiker Town to Mile 541 (24 Miles)
We were hiking by 6 a.m. It was the first morning that I felt warm in just my hiking clothes before the sun came up. That meant it was going to be hot.
We walked toward the aqueduct as the sun came up. It was exciting at first. When you first start the PCT you hear about the LA Aqueduct stretch. You hear how hot it is. You hear how thirsty you get. You hear about the wind farms. You hear about how boring it is. For some reason all this information had me hyped up for the section, but that soon wore off.
The miles dragged on as the sun came up. The temperatures begin to rise as my motivation began to fall. It was 17 miles of dirt road walking before we would get back on any sort of trail. Looking back on those miles they all melt together.
We took breakfast by the big, rusty pipe the aqueduct was in and then a snack break under a bush somewhere. Other than that we just walked.
Eventually we arrived at the water source. There was a small muddy steam and a spigot. What was more exciting than the water was the shade. There was extensive shade under a bridge that went over the river. We took a three-hour siesta there. We laid out, pigged out, and listened to the water trickle by us as we cooled down.
Eventually we had to return to the heat. Reluctantly we left and walked into the wind farm we had been walking toward all morning. The turbines were much more massive than I ever thought. We got close enough to sit underneath one for a break and I have to admit they are slightly terrifying. Eventually after many more miles of hiking through the wind farm we made it to camp. Yet again we found ourselves next to a very silty river.
Day 34: Mile 541 to Mile 558 (17 Miles)
After the heat from the day before I wasn’t keen on having another hot day, so I made Andrew leave camp at 5:30 a.m. We both were in desperate need of a day off so it was hard to get going, especially when our morning started with a climb. What didn’t make this climb any better was the taste of my water. Although we filtered the water from the silty creek it still had a taste of dirt and manure. I tried to cover it up with flavored electrolytes but it still had a bite.
Luckily we were rewarded with a water cache about seven miles into the morning. This cache wasn’t just any old water cache either; it was deluxe. It had chairs and umbrellas, a logbook, a hiker box, and trash cans. All in the middle of nowhere! It was just what we needed. Thank you Mile 549 Bar and Grill.
After enjoying the shade and the company of some other hikers we set off downhill toward another wind farm. We were supposed to meet my uncle at Highway 58 that day and still had many miles to go. On our way down we decided that we were going to end our day eight miles sooner than expected in order to get an extra half day of rest added onto our zero day. This meant we only had a few more miles to go.
Although it was hot we cruised the rest of the way down, knowing that we only had to go 17 miles total that day. My uncle picked us up off the side of the road and drove us into Tehachapi. We plowed through a lunch of Mediterranean food and made our way to Bakersfield where my aunt and uncle live. We spent the rest of the day airing out our gear, eating, and swimming in the pool.
Day 35: Zero Day
I slept in until 9 a.m. Andrew and I spent our day doing various zero day activities like airing our gear out, going to Walmart, eating Krispy Kreme donuts, and swimming in the pool. We also did a lot of research on conditions in the Sierra and decided that we will most likely try to go in. Since my aunt and uncle welcomed us into their home we went to go pick up dinner for them at P.F. Chang’s. I was finally able to FaceTime Lily after dinner.
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