Day 5 16.03.18 25 Miles / 40km
After waking in the comfort of a cabin in Mount Laguna we packed our bags, ate some noodles we found in the Hiker box (boxes where hikers put leftover resupply food, free to good home) for breakfast and jumped in the car with storeowner Tom. He gave us a lift out to the Pioneer Mail Picnic area where we had previously retreated from the storm.
High winds were still prevalent and since there were only exposed ridge line tent sites along the trail we decided to hike our longest day yet to avoid further delays. We covered 40kms (25miles) then got a 20 minute hitch into the town of Julian to seek shelter.
Water run offs across the trail were frozen and my physio tape turned solid preventing me from taping my knees for the upcoming downhill sections. Anxious about my knees but grateful for my hiking poles I made a mental note to go easy on the downhill sections and carry on.
Back on the ridge we faced another day of cool temperatures and high wind speeds, 50-65km/hr with gusts up to 80km/hr! We cruised through the first half of the day hitting the 30km (18mile) mark by 2pm when we stopped for lunch in the sun. After this we slowed down considerably. Joints started hurting, my hips were tight, feet ached and new blisters formed. Even Kyle struggled, limping behind with new found pains.
After a few more hours the 40km push was finally over. I was tired, hurting, and the wind continued to relentlessly push against us. Straps on my bag kept whipping me, causing me to get unnecessarily angry at them to then roll my eyes – the bag doesn’t care if you’re mad.
Over the course of the day the trail scenery changed to desert, the odd cactus starting showing up and eventually we were surrounded by all kinds of spiky plants.
Our first trail magic was found at the end of the day. There were gifts of water, lollies, first aid supplies and post cards… Thank goodness for kind hearted Trail Angels!
Carmen, a popular Trail Angel, picked us up at Scissors Crossing, taking us to the Town of Julien where we had dinner at her restaurant with other hikers before heading to the lodge across the road.
As we waited to check into the lodge I realised my back was slowly getting wet from my pack. We hobbled to our room after the huge day and found a thorn had punctured the water bladder inside my pack… Welcome to the unforgiving beauty of the desert Heather.
Finding ourselves incredibly sore we spent the night draining new blisters, stretching, icing joints and rolling tendons. Also… ice machines in North America blew my mind! It’s just not a thing back home.
Day 6 17.03.18 14 Miles / 23km
Finally the importance of a properly packed pack had sunk in. My shoulders were still aching from the day prior so I worked on moving the heavy food bag from the top to the middle of the pack and immediately felt the difference. Overall my pack is a little too big for me so a lot of the weight is being carried on my shoulders incorrectly. Luckily Osprey has a new pack on the way as part of the Pacific Crest Trail Association P3hikers Ambassadorship I gained, so I honestly can’t wait for the upcoming comfort.
Julien is an extremely hiker friendly town. As advised we went to Mom’s Bakery for free apple pie for PCT Hikers. We were so warmly welcomed with food and drinks, a chance to sign the visitors book and advice on where to find the best hitch back to the Trail. The hospitality was amazing and I highly recommend Julien to any PCT hiker!
Snow warnings have held most hikers back in Julien for the day, but determined to be on the trail we stuck our thumbs out and a whole 30 seconds later were picked up for a hitch back to the PCT.
It’s been a surreal experience in the desert. From a distance it appears to be a hot and sand filled environment with an assortment of cactuses and small shrubs. However, in reality I was fully rigged up in my rain gear to combat the powerful winds and cold rains, all the while mentally preparing myself for the rumoured snow storm rolling in over the horizon.
Day 7 18.03.18 16.5 Miles / 27km
Our gamble with the weather paid off and after a cold but calm restful sleep we lazily got up, ate, packed up tents and started on the trail by 10am. Today was destined to be an exciting day… We will finally catch up with our favourite trail friend, Ray! Ray took a zero day, resting at Warner Springs Community Centre while we made our way to the reunion!
The weather was perfect for hiking all day. We caught a break from the wind and the terrain changed again from desert to lush green meadows. Lunch was at a gorgeous campsite with a fresh water spring and we took the liberty to chill out and enjoy the weather.
No new blisters were forming but both Kyle and I have new leg pain in places we didn’t know could hurt. My left knee has started hurting on downhill sections (I’m surprised it took 7 days) and the front of my right shin has tendon pain.
After lunch each day our pace dropped and we dragged our sorry selves to camp. Passing the 100 mile marker (160km) and Eagle Rock we stop for a quick snap and carry on our seemingly endless path to Warner Springs. It was a shame we were so beat from racing to catch up to Ray, as this leg of the PCT was one of the most scenically beautiful yet.
As we arrive to the tiny town of Warner Springs, Ray is waiting outside for us. We cheer, hug, drop our packs and head out to the golf club for beer and pizza. We then make a mental note to never feed Ray pizza again after hearing him fart all night. We were turned into uncontrollable giggling children every time Ray let one rumble through the quite hiker shelter. It’s so great to have our trio reunited.
The Warner Springs Community Centre opens its doors to hikers for the season to sleep on the floor for only a small donation. Grateful of the warmth, shelter and toilets we join other hikers here for the night. Another benefit is it’s allowed my streak of no trail poops so far, taking full advantage of each town along the way! 😉
Day 8 19.03.18 13.5 Miles / 22km
After a sleep in we slowly packed up our gear while eating mashed potatoes for breakfast and chatting with Canadian couple Dan and Emma. They were our age, super chill and lived just 5 minutes away from Kyle. Dan was on board with Rays T-Rex “facts” so now I have no idea what to believe.
We walked the mile into town to pick up our posted resupplies. All three of us still had uneaten food from previous legs so decided not to take all the dinners. Left over food went into a box which we left at the supermarket for the store staff to drop to the Community Centre for other hikers. Warner Springs is another very hiker friendly town.
By midday we hit the road and rejoined the trail. Ray pointed out Poison Oak so we can identify it to keep clear. I wonder if it’s too late and possibly responsible for the leaf sized welts I had on the side of my upper thigh. Risky pee perhaps?
We bumped back into Dan and Emma and officially gave Dan the Trail Name “Bluejay”. He’s a bird fan and spent the morning telling the boys that he’s looking for a bluejay and so far all we would have seen is a Western Blue Bird. Ray being a local could verify Bluejays are around, and remains adamant that Dan could have simply missed them.
Despite seeing it on the map we were all rudely shocked by the full on day of climbing uphill. I’m already happy with the strength I’ve gained, but in the heat I was getting calf pains. The boys suggested I drink more water (I’m never drinking enough), and the pains went away, saving me from a potentially catastrophic cramp.
We made the most of our shortest day on trail by being loud, laughing, and singing the whole way. I don’t know what people call this trail trio but I’m sure they can hear us well before they see us.
Our first questionable water source was taken from a still spring, forcing us to trust our Sawyer squeezes to filter out the two mosquito lavas I’d unknowingly scooped up. I was horrified but carried on filtering and survived drinking the water.
Ray is a trail name generator and keeps saying I should be Giggles (one guess why). Not overly keen on the lack of badass in the name I suggest he keeps thinking. The boys have noticed I suck at the simplest of creek crossings, managing to get wet feet each time, so the name “Splash” is now also kicking around, but still not quite right.
The other thing I can’t help but notice is how much the boys fart. It’s constant, and they’ve taken to blaming me for it. “Heather excuse yourself” is often heard, or me jumping on it and claiming it while they let out a slow one while maintaining eye contact. This is absolutely one of those moments when you look back and wonder how this became your life.
Exhausted, I took an early night at 7:30pm. The boys agree I snored all night… I’m one of them now.
Day 9 20.03.18 16.5 Miles / 27km
First thing we did this morning was walk to the famous trail angel spot “Mikes” for water. We were too early for any of the highly spoken of hospitality, but the trio was back together so we collected and filtered our water and chatted with Four Eyes for a longer than needed morning tea break.
Four Eyes is a self confessed nerd who hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She’s solo hiking the PCT but we often bump into her.
Sad to not take advantage of a bathroom at Mike’s I finally broke my 8 day streak and did my first trail poo. High fives all around while I Leave No Trace.
Careful to manage the token female in the group the boys have noticed my “difficult” tendencies but put it down to me being a stubborn Australian, rather than being a stubborn woman. I gladly take it, but am sorry for reputation I’m giving all Aussies back home.
After a full afternoon of downhill trail sections my left knee was hurting a lot. I was a total buttercup and slowly limped to our camp after the long day. Drugs helped the last few kilometres and made for a comfortable night, then by morning it was fine again.
Day 10 21.03.18 12 Miles / 20km
Knowing there is a cafe ahead we started early with a delux lunch in mind. Kyle pushed ahead while Ray and I tackled the steep hill climb together. In our usual formation Ray was behind and coached me up the hill “use your arms, push harder, smaller steps etc”.
The water source close to our campsite looked unrelliable with algae, floaties and stagnant water. We decided to pass the source, which is lucky as we later found a water cache provided by the PCTA. We signed the trail register, recorded how many Litres we took and carried on.
Eventually we caught up with Emma and Bluejay and enjoyed a few hours together getting to know them. They are vegetarian and Bluejay is super into birds, plants, nature, yoga and the van life. Emma isn’t so into identifying all the plants so Ray has nick named her “Not Impressed”.
After pushing uphill along 20km of the trail by lunchtime the four of us finally reached the Paradise Valley Cafe, a popular hiker spot with huge burgers, milkshakes and beers. Packs lined up outside and tables were pushed together inside while we join other hikers to eat and take advantage of free coffee refills as Downtown played in the background. This is exactly the Hiker Community I was hoping for… And everything I feared I wouldn’t find.
After warnings to get off the mountain before an upcoming storm we jumped on the Air BnB website and booked a room for all 7 of us to share and got a lift into town with Gus. Gus is a local at the diner who has a burger named after him. He drives hikers back and forth all the time while telling us about the town, his horses and his time in the Marines before he retired.
Also in the car was hiker Scott who is retired from the airforce and his passion for life and the PCT experience is addictive. He speaks of everything with such appreciation, being the views, trail angel kindness, the horse we passed and meeting back up with other hikers after a long day. Ray wants to name him “Pack Rat” since he manages to find and pick up everyone’s left behind belongings, returning them to their owners once he catches up for the night. I hope to continue meeting up with Scott but with different hiking paces I think we’ve only got a few more days together.
The night was spent in a tiny little cabin together sharing wine and a meal cooked by Four Eyes. I’m starting to understand what is meant by trail family, and joys of a hot shower.
Day 11 22.03.18 0 Miles / 0km
Zero days are the best. A night in a real bed, a sleep in and excitement comparable to Christmas morning while I opened packages from REI. I’m stoked my new thermals fit and fleece sleeping bag liner feels cosy.
While relaxing there’s lots to do on a zero day. We walked through the rain for the 30mins into town to wash clothes, shop for the next 5 days of food and check out the local camping stores in the gorgeous town of Idyllwild.
I also had a handful of emails to tend to for the ambassadorship for the PCTA P3Hikers supported by Salomon and Osprey. My new Osprey Luminous pack ended up being sent up the trail to Big Bear, and my new Salomon Exos ProTrail Runners will be waiting for me at Agula Dulce. Tonight I’ll video call the girls back home and tomorrow we start our longest stretch so far carrying 5days of food.