Day 0 –
So here it is, after 5 months of planning and almost 24hrs of travel I arrived at the Ocean Beach Hostel in California to prepare for my days prior to the Pacific Crest Trail. Here I met my first PCT hikers, who happened to be in my room, Patrick and Kyle.
Kyle is a 30yr old Naval Engineer from Canada. He talks smack all day and makes me cry with laughter. He’s endless entertainment.
Patrick is a 28yr old from Germany. When he was 16 he suffered a serious leg injury in a motor bike accident meaning he couldn’t walk for 2years. It’s amazing he can hike the PCT.
In the bunk above me was Kyle. We had the same start date so then spent the next 3 days shopping for our resupply boxes, going to REI and packing our bags. Patrick ended up pushing back his start date so we could all start together as well.
On our last day at Ocean Beach we decided to make the most of the warmth and head out to the water. Thankfully, with time still to shop I realised I shipped my shorts to Canada where my Aunt lives with my clean clothes for the finish… Opps.
Trail Angels are volunteers who help out hikers with lifts, accommodation, food and in any other way they can think of. They are a huge part of a hikers experience on the PCT, and my interaction started immediately. Trail angels Judy and John kindly picked us up on the evening prior to our start. They fed us dinner, we had conversations on the medical and political situations of each of our countries, then we watched a movie and then went to bed. Unfortunately, they didn’t explain to this international hiker how to use a US lamp switch. Googling it didn’t help, so I admitted defeat and asked Kyle for help via Facebook messenger who came and saved the day. I later hear Patrick had the same problem. Thanks Kyle!
It wasn’t nerves that kept me up that night. It was excitement. After all this time planning I was starting the PCT feeling ready.
Day 1 – 12.04.18 15 Miles / 25km
Starting the trail was extremely ordinary. For something that had consumed me for so long it really was just like starting any old hike. It was a warm sunny day, we took our starting photos, were greeted by a PCT Association representative and then head out on our merry way.
Patrick received his Trail name “Barb” at mile 0. He leaned his pack against the barbed wire at the Mexican border…multiple times. Our trail angel affectionately said, “You’d made a terrible illegal immigrant”.
Much of the trail reminded me of Australia both in temperature and terrain… Except with scenic mountains in the background. It was dry, the trail was made of rocks and dirt and we were surrounded by low shrubs. It was…underwhelming.
Kyle very observantly noticed the burnt out trees. “Man, no wonder there’s no shade around here.”
By lunchtime I had noticed a hotspot on my heel where the inner sole of my shoe was sliding. Later, I drained a blood blister from the site and it did’t bothered me since. It’s nerve racking knowing this is just one day’s worth of damage… our poor feet after the PCT.
After lunch we met Grandpa. He is an 80 year old grandpa we came across on the 16km (10mile) mark. He was out of water and had been out there for 4 days. Concerned, we gave him 3 litres of our own water and continued onwards to Canada.
Later upon arriving at the Hauser Creek campground we realised the river was dry. Fortunately, we all had 2 litres of water so stayed the night and planned to start early the next day to climb out of the valley before it got too hot.
We did find a murky puddle so each took an emergency litre, while gawking at the giant paw prints in the mud. Needless to say, I heard everything that went bump that night. Woodpeckers are a real thing as it turns out.
Day 2 – 13.04.18 16Miles / 27km
As planned we got up early and started our climb out of the valley in the dark and watched the sunrise as we went.
Once we reached Lake Morena Campground we stopped to refill our bottles, eat breakfast and wait for Barb. Barb never did catch up, and later contacted us saying he was going to take the trail slower, and then we met Ray.
Ray is a 35yr old restaurant manager from California who lives out of a van. He’s so awesome company, and really chill. He keeps us entertained with random T-Rex facts…mostly made up, but I fall for them every time.
The desert heat was pounding on us but with new company no one wanted to call the break. Finally once someone suggested lunch there was a communal cheer. Crossing the road Kyle joked “I hope they have a sign around that bend saying: Slow, dehydrated hikers crossing”. This still makes me laugh so much more than it should. So much truth it hurts.
The night was spent at Fred Canyon tentsite where we had our first chance to mingle with other hikers then head to bed early.
Day 3 – 14.04.18 20 Miles / 33.2km
Today we learnt what we’re all made of. The trail well and truly tested us with a huge uphill climb in the rain to Mt Lugana. We joked my name should be “Hill Slayer” since I hate them so much, but overall I’m happy with the pace I’m keeping.
As we got closer to Mount Laguna we found ourselves surrounded by forest which took my breath away as colours popped in the wet weather.
We had a late hot breakfast in Mount Laguna then shopped for our first resupply. The store owners advised we shop and post ahead to Warner Springs so we threw together a quick box each and sent them from the post office next door then headed on our way.
Immediately we were high along a ridge line for the next few hours. The wind was so intense we stopped to get our gloves out and put on buffs to save our faces from windburn. It’s just Day 3 on the trail and I’m already grateful for bringing a quality rain jacket. Trees eerily whistled in the wind around us just like some freaky Lord of the Rings scene, and we caught the occasional glimpse of endless desert when clouds would pass for a moment.
We made it 16km (10miles) out of town to our campsite, where it was still so windy we struggled to find any sheltered tent sites. Kyle and I shared a tent since space was so limited and it was so cold. Ray went and found another site in ditch behind some bushes. We’re glad he wasn’t washed away in all the rain we got that night. We’re also thanking our lucky stars we didn’t drown in the puddles that ended up in our own tent. Through the night the tent fly lifted in the wind, then would stick back down to the wet tent. In the dark and howling wind it’s hard to know what’s actually happening out there, and it’s generally best to just ignore it.
Day 4 – 15.04.17 0 Miles / 0km
After the longest night in history my alarm finally went of, and that’s when we discovered the carnage of wet sleeping bags, packs and clothes. We packed up the tent in the hail and then took shelter in the toilet block to decide what to do next.
After consulting upcoming weather with our Garmins and assessing the next few days campsites and water reports while shaking and huddled in a cubical together we decided to get water and carry on. Once outside in the cold Kyle and I decided to head back into town to properly dry off and start again the following day, prepared for the treacherous weather ahead. Ray carried on along the Trail without us, it was sad watching him walk off into the storm.
We headed out to the highway and started the 15km (9 Mile) walk back to Mount Laguna while our hands thawed out as it started to snow. The Canadian in Kyle wasn’t impressed, but this snow deprived Aussie was thrilled. After a few unsuccessful hitch hiking attempts a ute (truck) pulled over and we were picked up by a couple who felt sorry for us out in the weather.
Local shop owner Tom hooked us up with a cabin and we spent the day drying out our gear and chatting to other hikers. Word on the trail is we weren’t the only ones who did this.
Since it’s been so cold and temperatures are predicted to drop we took the opportunity to place an order on REI to be delivered to the next town. New sleeping bag liners and thermals should hopefully do the trick through the cold desert nights and Sierras.
Tomorrow Tom takes us back out to the Trail and we start playing catch ups to find Ray.