By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 558.5
Completion percentage: 21.08%
Hiking days: 37
Zero days: 13
Total Ascent: 94683 ft.
Total descent: 95618 ft.
Blister count: not worth tracking anymore
Notable injury count: 1
The stretch from Wrightwood to Tehachapi started out with what was, by far, the most challenging day of my entire hike. On the morning of May 24th, Carjack, Muscle, and I set out to summit Mount Baden Powell. The three of us headed out a few hours earlier than the rest of our group, and by mid-morning began to tackle the mountain. We were looking forward to the day, with a culmination at little Jimmy Campground which allowed fires, and even had an incredibly luxurious pit toilet – lucky us. In anticipation of the campfire, I packed all the ingredients for making s’mores. We had an uneventful hike up, and were met with overcast conditions at the peak.
After enjoying the incredible view at about 1:30 in the afternoon, the three of us signed the trail register and began our descent down the mountain towards Little Jimmy, about 6 miles from the peak. Given the snow conditions we figured it would take about three hours, which, at the time, felt like a conservative and generous estimate. About 10 minutes into the descent we were met with a small 15 foot slope that people had clearly been glacading down before. At the same time we also encountered two other hikers (for anonymity purposes I’ll call them John and Jane). The bottom of the slope had rocks and logs scattered about so I decided to try and hike down instead of glacading. Unfortunately my microspikes failed and I slipped about halfway down the hill. I picked a spot that didn’t have much debris at the bottom and was able to stop myself with no issue. Carjack and Muscle were able to walk down safely.
While we were at the bottom, Jane, still at the top, said she was going to glacade down and asked if one of us could stop her before she would reach the trees and rocks. This should have been the first indication that something bad was about to happen, as stopping someone from glacading is extremely difficult. The three of us politely declined and she proceeded to begin sliding down the hill. Unfortunately for her, she was wearing her rain pants, which were quite slick and picked up a lot of speed. Unable to stop herself, she rammed into a tree stump. The three of us walked over to her to see if she was ok and it was pretty clear that she was visibly shaken up. Her eyes were beginning to fill with tears and her breathing was quite heavy. After talking to her it was revealed that she was physically OK, but she had banged up her leg a little bit, and was worried because she had had two previous ACL surgeries on that knee. Additionally, she had a lost a bit of skin on the heel of her hand, which Carjack tended to. John came down the slope and Jane took a few minutes to catch her breath. After everything seemed stable, the five of us pressed on.
Roughly five minutes later, John took an unexpected fall and slid into a rock. He received a deep gash on his hand and was bleeding profusely. Carjack again sprang into action and bandaged him up. He clearly needed stitches, but the best we were able to do was to pack the wound with gauze and stop the bleeding. While this was going on Jane became visibly upset and was having difficulty dealing with the situation. I walked Jane down about 50 feet and tried to calm her down while Carjack and Muscle tended to John. After a few minutes of making bad jokes and small talk, Jane calmed down and I returned to the others to see how John was doing. In addition to the gash on his hand, he had slammed his leg into a rock and had lost feeling in his pinky. I had him close his eyes and I ran my finger on his pinky to see if he could feel it; he felt nothing. We feared that he had severed the nerve leading into his finger.
It was pretty clear to Muscle, Carjack, and myself that both John and Jane we unable to hike down by themselves and they would require assistance down. We considered using our SOS devices to call search and rescue, but it would have taken them hours to reach our location. Our rationale was that it was only a few miles to camp, and we would be able to make it there well before sundown, where they could choose to camp for the night or try to make it to a highway via a fire access road. We decided that the three of us assisting them down was the best course of action and pushed on. Unfortunately, progress was much slower than we expected. Both John and Jane had their confidence shattered by their falls and injuries, and they hesitated with nearly every step. The snow conditions were actually decent, yet they were unable to take a single step without being encouraged or given explicit instructions on what to do.
The three of us adopted the ‘divide on conquer’ method. John was in worse physical shape because of his leg. Muscle and Carjack helped him along while I led and navigated the group with Jane. I was responsible for making sure we stayed on the trail and helped chop steps through more difficult sections. As we progressed, Jane continued to have difficultly taking steps and her feet were slipping; each small misstep broke her confidence a bit more and her mental state was declining as a result. At this point she was crying on and off, and was making repeated comments about not being able to hike anymore. John was not doing so hot either and required help on the ‘more challenging’ portions. The photo below shows what we had to do to get him over a 5 foot snow drift: pack off, hand assisted, and copped steps. For a well prepared and uninjured hiker this obstacle would be easy to tackle without a second thought, but given the condition that the injured hikers were in, it was nothing short of an ordeal.
After roughly an hour of hiking we all stopped to reevaluate and were actually met with some greatly needed good news. The feeling in John’s pinky was beginning to return, which meant that his nerve was not severed. Other than that though, John and Jane were not in great shape, but calling search and rescue still seemed like the wrong decision. We continued to descend the mountain and were met with many of the same challenges. At this point Jane was stopping every quarter of a mile or so and would sit down and begin crying profusely. She was clearly in a very emotional state and became difficult to deal with. During one of these bouts I learned that she was a mental health professional and could’t I help but notice the irony.
Roughly three and a half hours into the saga, we accidentally got off trail. Because of the snow coverage and everything else that was going on, I missed an odd turn and we ended up roughly 100 feet north of the trail. At that point John, Jane and I were roughly 100 feet ahead of Carjack and Muscle. I informed the two of them that we needed to get back on the trail and in order to do so, we would have to either backtrack, or bushwhack our way back to the trail up a hill. At that point Jane had a serious breakdown and I wasn’t sure what to do. After a few minutes of letting her cry it out she regrouped slightly and we started to backtrack. It was excruciatingly difficult to get the two of them to backtrack as their confidence had completely evaporated at that point. Mercifully, after a few minutes we made it back to Muscle and Carjack and were met with a minor miracle.
Because our progress had been so slow, the rest of our trail family caught up to us and they were standing on a small ridge about 25 feet above us. At this point Muscle, Carjack and I were completely emotionally drained from dealing with John and Jane. Firesocks, who is the most experienced hiker in our group, took over and started calling the shots. We again reevaluated and agreed that making it to camp was still the best course of action and pressed on. At this point, John seemed to be doing better, but Jane was still on the decline. I didn’t keep a detailed account, but it seemed like every few minutes Jane would sit down and cry.
It was determined that Jane could no longer carry her pack, so someone would have to carry two. Her pack was incredibly heavy, maybe 35 pounds, and we determined that there was no way someone could carry her pack as well as their own. We decided to do a pack shuffle among the stronger hikers in our group and I ended up carrying my pack, as well as the lightest pack in the group. Jane was upset that someone else was carrying two packs because of her, so T-pain and I decided to hike ahead, out of sight. We made relatively quick work of the remaining few miles and made it to camp around 7:30, just before sundown.
After getting to camp, I realized just how physically and mentally drained I was. I was in ‘crisis mode’ for roughly 6 hours, and was not taking care of myself; I had not eaten anything while we were assisting John and Jane. Even though I was totally depleted, my mind was going a mile a minute trying to process what I had gone through, so I did the only thing I knew how to do to calm myself down. I meditated on a bench for a few minutes and cleared my mind.
Spartan, another member of our group, had actually left Wrightwood before everyone else and reached the campground much earlier than everyone else. During that time he gathered firewood and started a fire. It was exactly what I needed. A little while later the rest of our group arrived and we ate s’mores around the campfire.
Side note: I’ve done my best to accurately reconstruct what happened that afternoon, but there are a number of details that I can’t recall exactly where they fit into the timeline. Below is the list of things I wanted to include:
-At one point Carjack asked John if “Jane was always like this while hiking” and it turned out that she had had a similarly difficult time on Mount San Jacinto. The three of us were very frustrated to learn this.
-There was an access trail that intersected the PCT where John and Jane were planning to bail out on but when we arrived at the junction, it was completely covered in snow and had actual zero footprints in it. It was a bit of a morale killer.
-During one of her crying bouts Jane seriously considered pushing her SOS button on her GPS device to call for search and rescue. This would have been a terrible idea as we would have had to sit and wait for hours on a cold ridge, likely until after the sun went down.
-After the rest of the group caught up with us, John and Jane were considering camping on the ridge. We had to strongly dissuade them from doing this as the conditions would have made it dangerous.
The rest of the way
The rest of the journey to Tehachapi was mostly uneventful, but there were a few things worth noting. This post is getting a bit long in the tooth, so I will list them them out rather than right them in long form.
-My feet have continued to swell, and I experienced another explosion of blisters, including one under a toenail on the middle toe of my left foot. At the beginning of the trail my feet measured 9.5 and they now measure a littler over size 11. I have switched shoes to Altra TMP 1.5 size 12 and am loving them. Things are under control for now, and thankfully there are no infections.
-The stretch of trail from Wrightwood to Tehachapi is broken up by multiple ‘must stop’ locations like Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. It made it difficult to get into a rhythm for this section as we did multiple neros in addition to some ~24 mile days.
-We night hiked the LA aqueduct section and did 18 miles, finishing at nearly 1 am. It was surreal to hike under the stars.
-The last couple of days hiking into Tehachapi were spent weaving in and out of wind and solar farms. It made for some spectacular views.
-Two days after Baden Powell, we were met with horrendous weather and got rained on all day. My Rain jacket failed to keep me dry and I was soaked all day. While at hiker heaven I was able to make it to an REI where I did my first ever gear return and picked up a new vortex jacket. I was able to stress test it a few days later when I got rained and hailed on.
-When grabbing dinner in Agua Dulce, there was a super tight bluegrass band playing at the restaurant. We were basically the only people there and got a private show
-T-pain departed from the trail and is going to hike the CDT instead. He is planning on moving to Montana after thru-hiking and wants to be a guide. His hope is that hiking the CDT will get him enough experience to get a leg up in the job market out there. He and I had a pretty serious bromance and he is going to be sorely missed.