Campo to Julian

By the numbers

  • Miles hiked: 77
  • Completion percentage: 2.91%
  • Hiking days: 6
  • Zero days: 1
  • Total Ascent: 11,004 ft.
  • Total descent: 11,608 ft.
  • Blister count: 0
  • Notable injury count: 0
One of the countless beautiful vistas that can be found in the desert

After spending a few days with friends in San Diego it was time for me to begin my trek. I was lucky enough to receive a free ride to the southern terminus from a woman named Stephanie, whom I met through Facebook. She gave another hiker (Rob from Seattle) and I a ride in her brand new Tesla and refused any form of compensation. She said she was headed down that way to do some trail running anyway.

After getting to the terminus, a few unceremonious photos were taken, and I made my mark in the log book. Shortly after, we were off. Rob and I hiked for most of the day together in the brutal heat. It only peaked at around 85, but the sun exposure really compounded on it. We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of water available and ended up making camp at mile 11.2. There were a few other hikers there, including ‘White Noise’ from the UK who hiked the AT in 2016, Myerta from Holland, a young couple from Canada, and a man in his mid-forties named David. After shooting the breeze for a while we found out that David had very limited backpacking experience. He was extremely gung-ho about the trip and brought a great energy to the camp. It was clear his enthusiasm was invigorating everyone around him.

I broke camp at roughly 6 am on day two and made quick work of the 8.8 miles into Lake Morena. After getting a sandwich and a shake at the famous malt shop, the plan was to hang out in the shade for the rest of the day. The malt shop employees let me hang out there to avoid the heat. Throughout the day the other hikers I had made camp with rolled in and we talked about our treks. The highlight of the afternoon was meeting one of the locals that wore a shirt with “I support Trump” emblazoned on it. The shirt also sported a small InfoWars logo on the sleeve. After approaching our table and asking about gear, he started to talk about some pretty serious conspiracy level stuff including, but not limited to, God breaking off Africa from Pangea first, vapor domes, the Great Flood, and incorrectly claiming that Pangea was actually called Patagonia. After David, Myerta, White Noise, and I politely did not respond, he left. David and I had the pleasure of informing the foreigners at the table that this was not so uncommon in America. After the Malt shop we made camp at the campground and I shared a Natty Daddy with a hiker named ‘Cheeks’. For the uninitiated a Natty Daddy is a tall boy of 8% Natty Ice, and it is just as disgusting as it sounds.

I broke camp early again hoping to beat the heat and hiked solo until mile 26. After drying out my tent there and eating a quick snack I was met by Cheeks, TJ, and Peter. All three of them were men in the low to mid-twenties from various parts of the US. Cheeks and TJ were previous ultra marathon runners and Peter was a seasonal worker who had just spent 6 months at Outdoor research. They were a great group of guys and we decided to hike together. After summiting a hill a few miles from our break site, we were met with day hikers who looked to be in their 50’s. They were exceptionally tan from head to toe. How do I know this? Because they were butt ass naked. One sported a Yosemite Sam tattoo on his butt cheek with the text ‘back off’ under it. You can’t make this stuff up. When passing them they let us know that a few miles up the trail there was a great watering hole where you can get naked and hang out. We decided not to take their advice and pushed on to Cribbets Flat, where we were met with some incredible trail magic.

Holly, ‘Tacos and beer’, and ‘Fruit Bowl’ have been providing trail magic for 19 years, and their experience shows. They had a full array of grazing food, sandwiches, beers, and candy that they shared with us. We hung out there for a few hours, and just as we were leaving, a full spread of Mexican food arrived. Who could pass that up? We happily waited while some of the group wolfed down a burrito and then we hit the trail. Throughout the day we leapfrogged other hikers we had seen on previous days and ultimately made camp at Mile 38. There we were joined by a French woman named Marion. She spoke very broken English, but made an effort to get to know us. Marion was interested in what states we were from, but had not heard of any of them. We ended up drawing a big map of the US for her, states and all. After a brief dinner, the group crashed.

We hit the trail as a group at 6:30 and we made quick work of the four miles to Mt. Laguna. TJ and Cheeks were in incredible shape and were committed to doing nearly 20 miles every day. Peter and I were feeling sore and our plans didn’t have us putting up those kinds of numbers until a few weeks in. We decided to hang out at Mt. Laguna for the day and said our goodbyes to TJ and Cheeks. Unfortunately, the small town of Mt. Laguna has become a bit hostile to hikers over the last few years. We heard a few horror stories from other hikers about how they were scammed by the lodge or taken advantage of in some other way. Peter and I headed over to the campground and were met by the ‘PCT Wolverines’, an organized group of trail angels who provided hikers with food and drinks. As it turns out, Peter knew one of the wolverines (an angel named ‘Climber Steve’) as they had worked together at Outdoor Research. The Wolverines gave me a pack shakedown and then we were about to be on our way. But first, the Wolverines had to pawn as much food and drink off on us as possible. They were about to end their weekend of trail magic generosity and wanted to get rid of everything. On top of the food we ate while we were there, Peter and I were given 2 bags of chips, a quarter bottle of Irish whisky, a 12 rack of PBR’s and a few grams of weed (even though we told them we don’t smoke). Not wanting to pack out 9 pounds of beer, Peter and I spent the afternoon distributing and drinking the PBR’s with other hikers we found in town.

Even though we had hiked 18 miles the day before and had already put up 4 that morning, Peter and I decided to head out and made camp at mile 47.8. Miles 45 to 55 are located on a ridge known for high winds. The campsite we found was not an official one, but was a small clearing in shoulder-high brush. The bushes provided decent wind protection and we ended up not having any issues. We were later joined by Myerta and another woman from Holland. After eating the chips and drinking the whiskey we headed to bed.

The next day started at a sleepy 7:30 as we were a bit hungover and only planning to hike 10 miles. After getting some water a few miles from our camp, we heard that there might be rain in the afternoon. Knowing this, plus the fact that the rest of the trail until Julian did not contain any water sources, Peter and I put together the following plan: 1) Hike fast to the last water source before Julian and make camp there. 2) Break camp at 2am the following morning. 3) Night-hike the ~16 miles to Scissors Crossing before the sun gets too intense.

This plan rewarded us in a couple of different ways. After high-tailing it to our campsite at 61.5, arriving at roughly 2 PM, we set up our tents and it immediately began to rain. All of the other hikers we talked to in the following days said they got rained on while hiking. We spent most of the afternoon napping and eating dinner in order to prepare for our very early start. The Plan to night-hike worked out beautifully as we were met with cool temperatures throughout the morning. We broke camp at 2am and were on the trail by 2:30. We hiked the 15.5 miles to Scissors Crossing nearly non-stop and arrived at 9:30. After waiting with a few other hikers we got a hitch into town from the wife of one of the hikers we met on the trail. She was a very jovial woman and gave Peter and I a pretty serious ‘Mom talk’ that culminated in making sure we didn’t talk to any trail hussies. Again, I will be ignoring the unsolicited advice from strangers. 

Peter and I after the sunrise during our final push to Scissors crossing

After arriving in town, Peter and I got a free slice of Pie at the famous ‘Mom’s Pie shop’ and then parted ways. Peter said he wasn’t ready to be back in civilization yet and caught a hitch back to the trail. I was still ravenously hungry as we had not stopped for breakfast that morning and went to Miner’s Diner for a burger. Feeling a food coma coming on, I got a room at the Julian Lodge and proceeded to take a very well earned shower and a nap. A few hours later I woke up and headed to the post office to pick up my bounce box. Even though I have used the USPS hundreds of times with no issues I was still nervous about my package not being there. Of course, there were no issues and I was able to pick it up.

I’m writing this as I take my first zero day on the trail. So far I have been able to avoid any injuries and my legs are feeling considerably stronger than when I started. Things are going according to plan for the most part, but I am actually quite a bit ahead of my schedule. I was planning on taking roughly eight days to make it to Julian, but it only took me six. My plan of averaging 10 miles a day for the first week felt reasonable, but I ended up averaging 12.8. My body felt comfortable with it so I allowed it to happen and went with the flow. I’ll be carefully monitoring my mileage over the next month or so in order to prevent any overuse injuries while my body is adjusting to life on the trail.

I’m excited to head out for the next leg of the journey. It’s a short 33 mile stint to Warner springs where I will take a zero day and resupply for the trek to Idyllwild.

The last leg of the trek to Julian
Photo credit: Peter King

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