By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 890.7 Completion percentage: 33.58% Hiking days: 56 Zero days: 25 Total Ascent: 94683 ft. Total descent: 95618 ft. Blister count: not worth tracking anymore Notable injury count: 2 Toenail count: 9
I’m a bit pressed for time here in Leavenworth because Carjack and I are planning on hiking out of Leavenworth this afternoon. We arrived here on a Sunday and I was not able to access my laptop until Monday morning (today) as it was waiting for me at the post office. To make things a bit quicker for me I’m going to make this post bullet points only.
-The trail family (except for Spartan) decided to flip up to the Canadian border and hike south. This is primarily because of the snow conditions in the Sierras. The Sierras got roughly the same amount of snow that they did in the winter of 2017 and that year 2 PCT hikers that attempted to go through had their lives taken by river crossings. We didn’t like our odds, so we decided to push the Sierras off until the Fall. In addition, there is a high risk of fire in Washington/Oregon this year and hiking that section now will allow us to hopefully dodge any trail closures due to fire.
-The section from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (KM) was mostly uneventful, and I hiked most of the ~100 miles by myself. I left Tehachapi about a half day after everyone else and trailed them the entire way. Because of the extreme heat and long dry stretches (up to 20 miles) I opted to night-hike most of it. The timing of the moon phase was very fortunate and an exceptionally bright full moon allowed me to hike two nights without using a headlamp. It was a surreal experience I am glad to have had.
-Unfortunately, during this section an old injury flared up. Quite a few years go my running ‘career’ was ended when I dropped a training implement on my right Achilles tendon and partially ruptured it. During the stretch to KM I started to experience dull pain and tightness in my Achilles. I compensated by putting more weight on my left leg, which then developed into an overuse injury in my left knee. According to Carjack, I had an inflamed infrapatellar fat pad which is a small patch of soft tissues that sits under the knee tendons. Nothing worrisome, but it was painful. My knee filled with fluid, and quite a bit of it drained into my ankle, causing it to swell. Photo below. Daily exercises and maintenance have gotten things under control, but hiking with both injuries was miserable up until a few days ago.
-Getting to the northern terminus from Kennedy Meadows was not a trivial task. From KM I hitched to Bishop, took a local bus to Reno, then a Greyhound from Reno to Sacramento, another Greyhound to Oakland (which was delayed by almost 6 hours), then a Lyft to San Jose where I stayed at my friends house for a few days, another Lyft to SFO, a flight to Seattle, got a ride from Carjacks parents from Seattle to Mazama, and finally a 30 mile approach hike to the Northern Terminus. All of that took about a week, and the time off was welcome as it allowed my injuries to heal up a bit, even though I did not fully recover.
-Washington is incredibly beautiful, to the point I am seriously considering trying to live in a small town up here after I finish. The mountain ranges are so vast and deep that the views are quite literally breathtaking. I have shared photos with family and friends of what I have hiked through, but the photos fail to capture the immensity and majesty of the landscape.
-The weather in Washington has been downright awful. Most days have been very overcast, and there has been more rain than we anticipated. Most days I am walking into camp soaked head to toe. The wetness is exacerbated by the cold temperatures, but the prospect of catching a world class view at the top of a pass is enough motivation to keep hiking.
-Carjack and I are hiking between 20 and 25 miles on full days, which is a great accomplishment given the terrain and trail conditions. The elevation changes in Washtington are huge, and the trail is quite poorly maintained. Most of the trail family group is a few days ahead of us, but this section is considered to be one of the most difficult on the PCT, save only the JMT portion.
-Two members of the trail family are no longer hiking. Magpie (formerly AK) missed her boyfriend greatly and decided to leave the trail and return to Denmark to be with her loved ones. Danish tore a tendon in his foot and is no longer able to continue. He walked 150 miles on a torn tendon, which is a feat in its own right, but the pain became too much and he will return home as well. Both of them will be dearly missed. In addition, many people who we have met along the way have decided to get off trail.
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.
By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 369.4
Completion percentage: 13.9%
Hiking days: 25
Zero days: 11
Total Ascent: 65825 ft.
Total descent: 58979 ft.
Blister count: 9
Notable injury count: 1
My stay in Big Bear was highlighted by the staff at the Big Bear hostel. The hostel is a relatively small operation run by a former marine who goes by ‘Sarge’. The place is operated with military efficiency, which was a joy to observe during my extended days of couch surfing. Sarge had an explicit set of rules to follow that rubbed some of the more ‘laid back’ hikers the wrong way. The number of people who couldn’t follow the “get the hell out of the hostel by 9 AM” rule was comically high.
In total, it took 8 zero days in Big Bear to let my infected blister heal. It was significantly more time than I wanted to spend, but the design to give myself enough time to heal paid off. During the 6 day trek into Wrightwood I didn’t experience any pain and the blisters have retreated under new layers of skin.
On the first day out of Big Bear I was essentially kidnapped by a group of hikers who aggressively friend people. We were planning on getting to Wrightwood in the same length of time, so we ended up camping at similar locations every night. Its a pretty laid back group that allows people to do what they want for the most part. We decided on specific meeting times and places for each stop, and then everyone gets there according to their own hiking style.
The first few days of the trek were pretty uneventful, but the third night brought some unexpected weather. Near freezing temperatures and uncharacteristically heavy rain made for a tough night’s camp. The morning after, we were met with more rain, and it made for a nasty hike. Luckily we had something to look forward to in the afternoon. About 10 miles from where we made camp the night before was a set of man-made hot springs. Luckily, the weather cooperated and the rain cleared up as the crew assembled at the small desert oasis.
We spent a few hours there lounging on the beach and drinking a bag of wine gifted to us by a fellow hiker named ‘Tonka’. Afterwards the group split up, and a small number of us decided we were going to hike an additional 4 miles to an established campsite while the rest would hike out about 9 miles. After a few hours we reached our intended destination and were met with heavy winds. The gusts were blowing sand and dirt in the air and we very quickly decided it would not be a good place to camp. We decided to hike and meet the rest of the group ~4.5 miles out. We begrudgingly moved on. About a mile in we were met with some trail magic from ‘Papa Bear’ and by pure coincidence met up with the rest of the trail family.
At roughly the same time, the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse and dark clouds were rising in the distance. Most of the trail family decided to take an Uber off trail and get a hotel for the night but I was not really interested in getting off trail so soon after my extended break. Like a true college freshman I skulled an already opened bud light that a stranger handed to me and made a decision to do something potentially dangerous, but would make for a great story. Brightside, T-pain, Danish, muscle, 70/30, and I decided to push on into the storm.
As it turns out, the storm was all bark and no bite. Strong winds and light drizzle all-but completely faded by the time we got to camp. The next morning we were met with perfect hiking conditions and made it to Cajon pass, which is famous on the PCT as it has a McDonalds only about 0.1 miles off trail. After an extended stay and countless calories, the group headed out and we began the 4200 foot climb to Wrightwood.
As planned we made it roughly halfway to Wrightwood and camped on the mountainside. That night we were met with freezing conditions. When I awoke the next morning, my tent was covered in a sheet of ice. It was so dense it had to be broken off of my rainfly. Luckily, we had cell service and were able to check the forecast for the final push. The forecast predicted snow staring between 10 and 11 am. We broke camp at 6 am and hiked as fast as we could hoping to beat the storm. The elevation and incline made hiking slow, and we made it roughly 10 miles before the storm hit at 10:30. Luckily at that point the remainder of the trail into Wrightwood was relatively flat.
As the day progressed conditions got worse and the snowfall increased. Originally, I thought that the storm was a mix of snow and hail, but it turns out it was a very specific type of precipitation called graupel. It is not something I had encountered before, but Muscle is quite knowledge about weather and was nice enough to educate the group about it. If you want to read more about it you can do so here: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/frozen-precipitation-defined-23431. As the storm got worse our pace slowed and our spirits dropped. It took roughly 3.5 hours to hike the remaining 7 miles, which is a glacially slow pace given the terrain. Carjack and I were the last two hikers off the trail at Highway 2, and it took us an excruciating 15 minutes to grab a hitch into Wrightwood .
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 266.6 Completion percentage: 10.0% Hiking days: 19 Zero days: 2 Total Ascent: 45575 ft. Total descent: 41513 ft. Blister count: 7 Notable injury count: 1
Warning, This post contains graphic images. If you do not wish to see them, do not continue.
After taking a great zero day in Idyllwild with the trail family, I decided to temporarily break off alone and try to catch my friend who was a few days ahead. At the same time, Anna announced that she was going off trail indefinitely due to pains in her foot. It was unfortunate to see her go, but one of the metatarsals in her foot was causing her quite a bit of pain for a while and she simply couldn’t continue.
I had a very
successful couple of days traversing the San Jacinto wilderness and Fuller Ridge.
My legs felt strong and I had hit a groove. I decided not to Summit San Jacinto
Mountain as all of the reports I got from other hikers said that conditions
were terrible. There was a considerable amount of post-holing, and a number of
hikers needed to be rescued off the mountain for various reasons. Over
the course of two days I was averaging 20 miles per day, and felt like I was
firing on all cylinders. After Fuller Ridge, I camped under the 1-10 highway overpass
and was ready to tackle Mission Creek. A few years back, a flood had knocked
out about 4 miles of the trail and it required bushwhacking/route finding. A
group of a few other hikers and I teamed up and decided to hit it in the
It’s amazing how quickly things can go from good to bad on the trail. After drinking some water in the morning that had been filtered from a sketchy looking stream, I immediately had an upset stomach. Of course the water was filtered, but the ceramic filters don’t capture any sufficiently dissolved particles like dirt or iron. Knowing that my upset stomach was caused by something that wasn’t bacteria and the fact that I did not want to push through Mission Creek alone, I decided to press on with the group. It never got to the point of being painful, but my stomach was churning all day and I failed to take care of myself in other ways that were necessary. Most days during lunch I take my shoes off and let my feet dry out. During lunch that day I sat up against a rock in a bit of a haze and didn’t dry me feet out. That, plus the multiple stream crossings, plus about 6,000 feet of elevation gain, all combined to severely exacerbate the blisters I had, and gave me multiple new ones. The worst blister formed on the toe pad of my right foot, under my second toe.
The next few days were difficult, but I didn’t really have a choice except to continue, as I was about halfway between towns. When I woke up the next morning my stomach felt normal again, but I now had the blisters to deal with. Hiking into Big Bear was only mildly painful, until the last day. On the morning of the last day I experienced excruciating pain when putting my shoes on in the morning. As I slipped my right shoe on, I noticed a searing pain in my second toe. I took my shoe and sock off to investigate and found that the base of my toe was swollen; turning my foot over I found that the blister that had formed had grown immensely and crept its way between my toes. I reasoned that all of the extra volume of the blister had caused my toe to crash into my shoes and had injured my toe somehow. I drained the liquid out of the blister, took a handful of Aleve and pressed on.
The 18 miles into Big Bear were not as bad as I had envisioned, but were still pretty brutal. After about 30 minutes of walking, the pain had mostly subsided but was still present with every step. I stopped after about 5 miles to eat a snack and the pain immediately returned. I’m not sure why, but the moving prevented the pain. After eating, I decided to hike the remaining ~13 miles without stopping. I needed to get into town as soon as possible and ended up hiking the 18 miles in about 7 hours.
After getting food and checking into the hostel with ‘Beast mode’ and ‘Bubble wrap’ I reevaluated my blisters and didn’t see anything concerning. I cleaned my feet and grabbed dinner with some other hikers. I had cell service for the first time in days and was informed that Lt. Anne had broken her ankle and could no longer continue. The trail claimed another victim from the trail family. Her husband, Heisenberg, is going to continue. Additionally, I found out that my friend I am trying to meet left that morning. Given the condition of my foot and how long I need to let it heal, it’s unlikely that I am going to be able to catch them.
The next morning my foot heath was about the same and I figured that I could just wait for my blisters to heal. Maybe two days off trail. Feeling like my feet had swollen, I wanted to see if I still had the right shoes. Luckily, there were a few people from Germany, ‘Bear bait’ and ‘OJ’ who had rented a car and were driving over to Pasadena which has an REI. They offered me a ride and I quickly accepted. The drive took over an hour, so naturally we talked about politics. Godwin’s law was in full effect and Hitler entered the conversation at about the 30 minute mark. I explained the fatigue I (and many others) experienced from the news related to the Trump administration and how I had become desensitized to the news. Both Bear bait and OJ very emphatically told me that that was exactly how Hitler seized control of Germany preceding WWII. Fun stuff.
Before REI, we stopped at In-N-Out. It was their first time eating the American classic and they absolutely loved it. At REI I got my feet measured and they had indeed swollen by almost a full size. After talking to the shoe expert he agreed that I had the right pair of shoes, but just needed a larger size. I also picked up some different socks and some toe liners. The trip to REI took almost 4 hours and we were hungry again, so we headed back to In-N-Out for seconds. On the way over, ‘Bear bait’ mentioned that she was a nurse and offered to take a look at my blisters. We sat in the parking lot and she inspected my foot. She was pretty adamant that it was infected and that I needed to go to the doctor. Unfortunately by the time we got back to Big Bear the clinic was closed, but I was able to make an appointment for the next day. I checked my feet again and the blister had started oozing puss; it was pretty clear that it was infected.
The next morning I hit the clinic and the diagnosis was confirmed. I was prescribed Clindamycin and told to stay off my feet for at least 72 hours. I’m guessing I will need 96. It should take the antibiotic about 48 hours to kill the infection, and another day or two for the unattached skin to re-adhere to my foot. As of this posting I have been off trail of five days, and am looking to get back on the trail on the 18th. It’s a big hit in terms of schedule, but according to my current plan, I am actually about 5 days ahead, so it’s not a complete decimation of my schedule. In addition, the weather surrounding Big Bear is pretty miserable. I have already seen multiple groups of hikers leave the hostel, only to return later in the day due to cold temperatures and rain. The timing of this could not be better for me, so I’m treating it as a blessing in disguise. This is the first real adversity I am facing on the trail, but spirits are still high.
Canada isn’t going anywhere and the snow report still shows that the Sierras are very far away from being traversable. I have time to let myself heal properly and am going to make sure I’m in good shape before I get back on the trail. This is a marathon (100 marathons actually), not a sprint. There is no reason for me to rush back into anything.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 179 Completion percentage: 6.77% Hiking days: 14 Zero days: 2 Total Ascent: 30204 ft. Total descent: 24999 ft. Blister count: 3 Notable injury count: 0
Large gains in elevation and steep uphills made the trek to Idyllwild significantly more difficult than the first leg of my journey. I have been treating each day as a training session for the Sierras, and it has been producing good results. The ’training’ involves taking as few breaks as possible when walking uphill, while making sure I keep my heart rate in check. It was particularly challenging the last few days into Idyllwild as the trail ascended over 8,000 feet. The perceived lack of oxygen (roughly a 20% reduction from sea level) is noticeable and it was nearly impossible to keep my heart rate from spiking when scaling a steep section. Even so, I feel stronger every day.
Leaving Julian after my first real zero was difficult because I knew what lay ahead. Straight out of Julian there is a somewhat steep climb with no water sources snd extreme sun exposure. The group hit the trail at 10 AM and we pushed through it. Along the way we were witness to a series of military jets doing some sort of training exercises in the valley. It was odd seeing the juxtaposition of untouched nature against the highly engineered unnatural machines; but it made for spectacular viewing. The terrain for the next day would be much the same, so we decided to camp at a small creek a few miles out from Warner Springs and then take a nero (nearly zero day). At the creek we were surrounded by other hikers. War stories were traded and bucket showers were had. In Warner Springs we added three hikers to our group: a mother/daughter team of Anna and Greta, and an unbelievable 75 year old solo female hiker named Jill.
From Warner Springs we set out for a three day trek to Paradise cafe. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the social interaction, so I hiked this section by myself and met up with the group at the cafe.
Along the way to Paradise, there is a famous stop called “Mike’s place” It’s a small haven in the middle of a dry stretch. Not only does it offer a critical water cache, but the owners offer soda to hikers, and if you catch them at the right time they will even make a pizza for you in the oven. Sounds pretty great, right? Well as it turns out, the place is run by some pretty questionable characters. Someone I know who is hiking a few days ahead sent me this text the day before I got there:
Obviously, this was pretty concerning and I mentally committed to skipping it. The next day I met a pair of sister SOBO (South bound) hikers in their 50’s and asked if they had stopped at Mikes. They in fact had, and said it wasn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. At this point I was pretty torn and decided to play it by ear. That day ended up being brutally hot, and I was running low on water. Another hiker and I decided that we would stop at Mike’s solely to get some water, and then head right out. Much to our surprise, the water tanks were a couple hundred feet from the house and we were able to fill up there with no issue.
Also at the tank was a German prison guard that went by the name ‘dirk’. We all took refuge in some of the highly sought after shade by the tanks and relaxed for a while. After about half an hour, some hikers walked by us who had come from Mike’s and let us know that it seemed to be pretty chill. The hikers also mentioned that they were giving out beers. Dirk immediately perked up and started to head down. Think beached whale transforming into cheetah. The other hikers and I decided to follow and were met with the following scene:
Not exactly the most inviting of places. This is actually only a small part of the property and doesn’t show the main ‘house’. I failed to get a photo of it and am really regretting it, as it was quite the scene. After dropping off our packs and putting a few dollars in the donation bin, we were given beers as promised. We joined a circle of other hikers where there were a few pretty lively conversations going on. ‘Strange, the caretaker, sported a clip-on fox tail and was clearly pretty high on weed. He basically talked pseudo-gibberish to me and Dirk for 15 minutes. The most tangible thing I was able to pick up on was the following idea: Memorize every line in you favorite movie, and then watch the movie in French while also having German subtitles so you can learn two new languages at once. I had a pretty skeptical look on my face at that point, and a man sitting next to Strange offered me a bowl freshly packed weed and said “it’ll help”. I politely declined. While all this was happening, there was also a semi-heated debate going on between ‘CIA’ and a European man whose name I did not catch. CIA is a retired IT specialist who set up secure email systems for government agencies. He and the European were sparring over different tax policies and how effective they were. CIA staunchly took the position that taxation is nothing short of theft, while the European claimed that he made more money than he needed and was happy to give 40% of his money to the government. Behind them a heavily bearded man who often hung around Mike’s cheered on the debate and emphatically claimed that ‘real discourse is finally coming back!’.
Feeling a little uneasy about the situation, I finished my beer and decided to hike a few more miles before I made camp for the night. I had just completed my first 20 mile day and was beat. I ended up setting up camp in a nice saddle, knowing full well that it was not a great spot. I was surrounded by a few other hikers, and we ate dinner together. We caught a nice sunset and I fell asleep to calm weather around eight. At about nine I was woken by intense winds contorting my tent. It was pretty clear that the strong gusts were going to destroy my tent, so I decided to remove my rain fly. With my tent now significantly less susceptible to the wind, I went back to bed. At around midnight I woke to the sound of my teeth grinding which is quite odd, considering I don’t usually grind my teeth. It turns out that the intense winds had blown a large amount of sand and dirt into my tent, and an ample portion of it had entered my mouth and nostrils. The sand was getting caught between my teeth and abrading them as my jaw moved. After cleaning out my mouth and sinuses, I headed back to bed. At roughly 1:30 I was awoken again unexpectedly, but not because of dirt. This time my knee was sitting in a puddle of water that formed in the base of my tent. It turns out the winds had brought quite a bit of precipitation with them and we were basically camping in a thick cloud. Naturally, the forecast had predicted no rain.
Everything I owned was absolutely soaked, and most of it was covered in a thick sand slurry. After seriously contemplating my decisions over the last 12 hours I decided to break camp at around 2 AM and hike to a better spot. As I exited my tent, I was met with the scene of about 5 other hikers doing the same. I descended down about a thousand feet and made camp in a much calmer spot. It was a hell of a 24 hour period, but I made it out unscathed. When I woke up the next morning, I was met with the most crisp and pristine rainbow I have ever seen.
From that point on into Idyllwild, the trail was mostly uneventful, yet challenging and beautiful in every way you would expect. The elevation brought with it beautiful vistas as well as our first snow. The Paradise Cafe came as advertised and provided us with delicious food to consume. We ended up eating there for dinner and breakfast the next morning. The owner and staff were unbelievably generous and welcoming through our time there. It was Lt. Anne’s birthday and they gifted us a bottle of wine to drink and even let us sleep on their patio overnight.
The next leg of the journey is one I am looking forward to immensely. I’ll be taking the alternate route that summits San Jacinto peak which comes in at 10,800 feet. My next stop will be in Big Bear, where I have it on good authority that there are some homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for me.
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.
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.
Throughout my training, my pack has continued to evolve. Each training session at Henry Coe State park revealed new things to me and my pack changed accordingly. Originally, it came in at just over 20 pounds. With constant reevaluation, consideration, and planning I have reduced my base weight to 14.3 pounds. A respectable number, but a far cry from the ultralighters coming in at 5-7. I’m confident with my pack as I feel like I have everything I need, and it comes in at a full pound lighter than the average thru-hiker that completed the journey in 2018 (per the annual gear survey).
Now that my trip is just four days away, I feel comfortable claiming that this is my final, final gear list. Below is a gear list of everything I will be starting out with.
The Big Three
Osprey Talon 44 Pack
Large Rain cover
REI Magma 30 quilt
Cocoon Sleeping Bag Hood Pillow
Thermarest z-lite SOL sleeping pad
Nemo hornet 1P Tent
Cnoc Vecto water container 3 Liter
2X 1L smart water bottles
1x screw top
1x flip top
Outdoor research Helium II Rain jacket
Mountain Hardware Stretchdown hooded Jacket
Nike Therma-Sphere Element dry fit Shirt – long sleeve
Nike Running dri-fit running shirt – long sleeve
2X Aididas Synthetic underwear
SmartWool Merino 150 Long underwear
2X – Wrightsock Double layer silver escape crew
REI Sarah Roll up pants
Outdoor Research Sun runner cap
Electric toothbrush head
SPF 35 sunscreen
Burt’s beeswax chapstick
Toilet paper – 10 squares/day
Talenti ice cream jar (for cold soaking)
Snow peak titanium spork
Julbo Sherpa glacier sunglasses
Petzl Tikka headlamp
Black Diamond ergo cork trekking poles
2x PowerLix Knee compression sleeves
Bauerfiend Achillies tendon support brace
2X Nite Ize S-Biner Size 3
ID and debit card (not pictured)
The stick personal massage tool
KT tape roll (10 inch strips)
OPSack – Large
3X patches Mole skin
Of course, This is not everything I will need for my journey. The Sierra Nevada mountain range requires a specific set of tools. For that leg of the journey I have selected the following items.
Oboz Bridger Mid BDry Hiking Boots
Will replace the Oboz Sawtooth II Low Hiking Shoes I will be wearing
Black Diamond Contact Strap Crampons with ABS Plates
Black Diamond Raven Ice axe – 70 cm
BearVault BV500 Food Container
The intent of this post is not to be entertaining, but informative. When I complete my journey 6 months from now I will make an updated post coving what gear I liked, did not like, and what failed on me.