Day 20 Big Bear to Double Springs Trail Camp – 2 miles

Joshua trees and Lucerne Valley


You guessed it, today’s been huge…that is if you consider waking in a hotel room filled with 7 freshly cleaned and well fed hikers, all of who promptly devoured a complimentary al a carte breakfast. Thanks Best Western Big Bear, and mostly thank you Togs. She left at a sparrows fart and the rest of us ate our fill, finished off our chores, which included uploading photos (that was me: meg), dunking fake nails in acetone to remove them (Harriet/Pinecone/bangs/…), walking to the sports store for a new top (phoebe, tamika and I), and getting a hair cut (dave). Busy bees we were, not really. We packed our now very full and very heavy packs and checked out by 1. On our way to a burger place for lunch, John a local pulled over and offered to come back in an hour and shuttle us to the trail head. Wengrstefully acdepted this, ate some more and waited his arrival. He shuttled phoebe, Harriet and Joe to begin leaving dave and I with tamika who was waiting on her food still. John came back, I was dubious he would, but he proved me wrong and was a great guy. He has lived in Big Bear for 7 years, loves to hike and interestingly spent a year going to school in Australia..Christian Boys College in St Kilda in the year of 1969. He hasn’t been back since, but wants to take his boys there one day. We piled out, all was well, waved John good bye, applied sunscreen and then I realised. I stupidly have left my trekking poles in John’s car. 

Poleless


I’m hoping they are still there, or even better on their way magically to me on the trail, or being forwarded to wrightwood. My poles were great, and expensive so it’s a bit of a loss. I waited roadside anticipating John’s return, alas it didn’t happen. I did talk to some nice hikers arriving in to big bear however and had the 2 miles hike to our camp to myself. It was a little taste of solo hiking. I’m glad I’m not doing it, I would be very lonely I think. Tonight we sit around a picnic table.

Waiting for the shout out, and the poles


 Joe is lighting a fire, a first for us, and smors will be cooking shortly. Smors are an american delicacy. You heat marshmellow over the fire, then sandwhich between to chocolate gram crackers. These Americans they know how to eat. Tamika’s porta radio plays a variety of music. She did a shout out  on the local station to John…maybe my polls will be returned via the airwaves. It’s nice to be back out in the trail. The great outdoors, the fresh air, the calmness, silence and private way in which we can conduct ourselves. The cliches are real. I get it. 

Close enough to town for some world wide webbing

Shout out hero

Ps: we made the smors. 

Smors in the making

Day 19 – Arrastre Camp to Highway 18 – 17km

We set out at 6:30 after a slowish start to the morning. We had a short half day today and needed to make it into Big Bear Lake before the post office shut at 4pm. We pissbolted (or hauled-ass as the Americans say) down a pined river valley in attempt to get to the freeway and hitch a ride into town. 

Arrastre Creek Valley and logged forest


We ate breakfast on an exposed ridge over looking Big Bear Lake and City. We all fantasised about what we wanted to eat in town and quickly made our way to the highway. 10 miles by 10am! Just like the pros! 

Views East to Lucern Valley


We hitched into town with infamous trail angle ‘Papa Smurf’ and his friend ‘The Iceman’. We planned to stay with out friend Toggs who was staying in the fanciest hotel in town. We all dumped our stuff and went about our daily chores, inc a diner visit, laundry, supermarket and post office. Over all it was a nice half day in town! I (Pinecone) pitched my tent on the balcony so I was still technically outside. 

PineCones’s 5$ off eating challenge (failed)

Jacuzzi times (hiker party night for sore bonez)

Day 18 – Mission Camp to Arrastre Camp, 26kms

Pinecone (Harry) and I (Quiz) decided pretty early on that today was pleasant. It was so pleasant after the last 2 days of walking up up and up desert valleys in the heat. Today was full of gentle ups and downs, well established pine forests and great views of San Jacinto and San Gorgornio.

Bye San Jacinto


It was another windy night and while 5 Layers (Meg) dreamed weird things next to me I farted the night away after last nights beans making our tent a warm poopy bubble. We woke feeling pretty sleepy at our usual time of 5.30 and packed up 2 to a tent to keep it from blowing away. Our campsite was on the edge of a fire that went through last year, but luckily the trail moved us up our of the burn area and into beautiful pine forest and past small patches of snow. There is one pine tree in particular that I love as it has warm burnt orange bark the grows like a beard giving it a very wise magical air, I must find out its name!

Eating all the scroggen


We moved quickly today and the trail was nice to us with only 2 major ups and lots of sidling. Often the track would take us to a saddle and give us another glimpse of San Jacinto behind us and growing smaller. We also got many great views of San Gorgornio, SoCals tallest mountain, and it’s many snowy ridges. I’m glad we just get to look at it but not climb it as the amount of snow on top looks formidable.

Snowy San Gorgornio


At one saddle we too a shot side trail to Coon Cabin. I have no idea of its ?questionable history but it had a pretty freaky feeling. It was a many roomed cabin with a paved floor, windows open to the elements, no doors, lots of graffiti, fireplace and signs prohibiting fires everywhere. We were thinking of camping here yesterday and I’m so glad we didn’t. 


We also passed right along the perimeter of a private zoo. Inside were grizzlys, lions, tigers, and even a white tiger pacing about in tiny cages looking depressed and board and hot. The whole place was too depressing for photos. I was cross that this was the first bear I was to see in America, I’m hoping to see lots more wild ones up the trail. I also don’t wasn’t to watch any more movies with animals in them as apparently that’s what the animals are kept for.

Camp


We ate lunch one a couch at a trail magic spot run by a local hostel. We pushed on an extra mile for the promise of soft drinks and fruit only to be disappointed by an empty bin. But due to our big morning we only had 3miles to do after lunch, all down hill, and arrived at our camp by 3 in a excellent clearing by a stream in a sheltered valley surrounded by towering pines. We all are the last of our food, which for some of us meant double dinner, shared the last of our snacks for desert and chatted around the picnic table and joes tiny fire. 

Joe is building the safest fire ever

Day 17 mission Creek to Mission Camp – 23 kms

Today on paper: 1,500 m elevation, through fire ravaged country with intermittent poodle dog bush affected areas (note: poodle dog bush is a plant, it smells and looks like marijuana, and when it makes contact with your skin causes a rash which turns into blisters and welts, then scabs up). Good day huh? 

Screen shot of the days elevation


After our lovely evening by Mission Creek we woke well rested and headed out of camp leaving two (tamika and Joe) of our party of six horizontal. The trail initially follows the Creek up a valley. I (meg) begun to count how many times we rock hoped across the banks but lost count at 8. 

Boulders I like


Sometimes the pink and grey granite boulders would guide us, and sometimes we would wade into mucky mud flanked by saplings. It was the first time on the trail it had felt anything other than dry (albeit San Jacinto). The Creek babbled around boulders and under tree roots, oaks mainly. Other times we would move up and away from the Creek into boulder country. The granite here is beautiful. Big chunks of grey stone marbled with the loveliest soft pink or white. We breakfasted on an old log by the Creek. Everyone felt tired so we made a large pot of coffee and anticipated a short day of about 20kms. Looking up the dry valley we began walking again crossing the Creek several more times. Eventually the trail leaves the creek and continues to gain elevation. 

Dave, Creek crossing


Our old friends the cacti, manzanita, yukka and various other familiar desert plants returned along with an abundant array of lizards. They splay themselves out of the rocks warming their bodies in the sun, then run hell for leather across the path away from you at the last minute. Their long legs and toes paddling out to the side lifting their seemingly heavy bodies in a quick sprint for survival. 

Desert plants


I listened to my Spotify, I seem to have a collection of offline songs I didn’t know I had. Some good, some bad, all are a great way to make miles when you’re feeling the heat. Dave and I pulled into some minimal shade and took further refuge under his umberella. These unlikely gadgets are a popular tool on the trail for giving savvy hikers shade. We waited for Harriet who was also feeling pretty spent, and then phoebe who also agreed that today was extra tiring. Maybe it was the collateral of San Jacinto, or maybe it was the long days coming off the ridge and then the long ups we’ve done since the i10. This break was 6.5     kms from our final destination, and it seemed easily accomplishable. Alas, we stopped only a few kms later to refill our depleted water supplies and look another lengthy break. The next 5 kms or so was exhausting and long. We hit the fire affected area which was interesting for about a km and then quickly became frustrating and tedious. Just when you think your close to the top the switch back flicks around and you’re faced with another incline, another ridge line. 

Fire affected ridges


On top of this the trail at times crumbled away as you walked along it. The death of the trees wreaks havoc on the ridges. The soil is left unprotected and without binding from the roots. There is evidence of land slides and it is obvious just how much everything is struggling here. The brightest signs of life are some sweet succulent type purple flowers. We passed some south bound hikers who were completing this section as it had been closed last year. 

Burnt pines


Eventually, after much huff and puff, a little swearing and much sweating we rounded out final ridge to the creek crossing. In such a desolate landscape I had been slightly worried up until this point that there might not be any water. Something about valley after valley of grey black soil and charred pines is very lonely and a bit spooky. 

As we came upon the Creek we would eyeball the blackened pines. Huge trees lifeless and beaten by the Lakes Fire. The creek was sweet releif, we flopped down on its edge not caring how filthy the black soil was making us. A lunch of rivita, tuna, cheese, hummus and ranch dressing pilfered from yesterday’s breakfast at Burger King. 

Beware: Poodle Dog Bush


After an hour or so we saddled up again and walked to last 2 kms up to tonight’s camp. We are still in the fire zone, behind an old car park. The wind blows through the camp, where there are at least 10 tents pitched. Behind some old horse yards Mission Creek runs over some mossy boulders and we washed our dirty bodies and filtered enough water for tonight and for the next 17 miles (over 20 kms) tomorrow. 

Bark of a huge burnt pine


Tamika and Joe just arrived as we scraped the last of our packet mash potoate, beans, and some Aussie dehyradted veggies with salmon out of our bowls. Everyone felt it today. We all struggled together which makes it easier. Dave says he is beat and it’s a good description. Your body feels broken in some ways, muscles ache and don’t do their job properly, or you just don’t have your regular get up and go. It will pass, and these feelings of weariness are always overwhelmed and pushed to the background of your mind by the ever changing landscape, or the camp jokes and laughter, or washing by a cold creek, or seeing a chipmunk for the first time, or eating your 10 th piece of chocolate for the day. You get it right? The struggle of hiking is part of the satisfaction you gain. Our bodies are no longer things for which we must simply look after, they are vessels, our means of transport and our greatest allies in completing the next hour, the next day, and the PCT. 

Wet feet from the morning

Day 16 – Interstate 10 to Mission Creek – 28kms

At 6am we waited outside Burger King in Cabazon for it to open. It was situated in a parking lot with giant dinosaur statues. Of course Phoebe (aka Quiz) was ecstatic and got her photo taken running around. It’s nice to do something a little touristy amongst all this hiking. 

Dinosaur statues at Cabazon


In Burger King we shove as many flavour sachets will fit in our pockets to spice up our trail meals. Hillbilly them drives us back to the I-10 to start hiking from where we left off. It was an awesome and  funny experience to stay with trail angel Hillbilly and he’s definitely conversation point amoungst our group now! 

The trail climbed very gradually at first lifting us away from the noise and smells and sight of civilisation and back into the wilderness. Our walking troop spread out along the trail, all getting comfortable with our speeds and hikin our own hike. As the path near reaches the edge of the valley it switches East and weaves up a valley occupied by wind turbines. It is the last couple of days of the seasonal Santa Anna Winds and all the windfarms in the valley are on over drive. 

Mesa Windfarms


I (Pinecone) enjoy the aesthetic of the power grid, wind turbines, train lines and highways in this desert environment. The infrastructure elludes to the mass of America that we are not seeing through this  journey but also shows how the desert can be a place of production and economy. 
The path today climbs steeply out of the valley with the windfarms and skirts around the side of a ridge until it plummets back down to meet white river. Signs tell is that we are now in the San Grigorio Wilderness Area and technically White River is the first annually flowing stream we cross on the PCT. 

Looking down on Whites River


We take a turn off the PCT to go to Whites River Preserve for lunch. We hear there is swimming there and little fish that will eat the skin off your feet. In reality it’s more of a strange urban park with tranquil fish ponds situated in a beautiful valley. The shade from trees was greatly appreciated and the day visitors there with poodles and terriers seemed absurd after spending days mountain climbing. 

Palms at Whites River Preserve


Crossing Whites River


After lunch we head north upWhites River Valley. It’s amazing to see such abundance of water after sourceing it from so many troughs and water cashes. We cross the river and head east up a valley. The path undulates 3 times slowly climbing, glimpsing view of San Jacinto and San Grigorio. We finally switchback down off a desert ridge to camp at the picturesque Mission Creek! Over all a tiring, hot and windy day with Meg seeing her first rattle snake and phoebe and I seeing an unknown  yellow and orange snake. Just another day on the PCT. 

Camp with Ozmosis + groupies

Day 15 – West Fork Snow Creek to I10/Hillbilly’s House, 26km

The wind howled all night, moving down the mountain behind us and funnelling into the small valley where we are camped. Today had 3 main themes, windy, hot and down. 

Morning cloud, Mt San Gorgonio out back


We hit the road early and heading out onto the exposed ridges and the start of a 20km, 1500m descent back to the desert floor. We traversed the steep sides of San Jacinto via switch backs (about infinity of them), and promptly stopped at number 2 for breakfast and coffee. The wind was strong but we managed to stop behind a pile of rocks protecting us from the wind.

Mile 200!!!


We were passed by about 6 other hikers while we stopped for breakfast, you sometimes forget that your on the hiker superhighway. Snakecharmer lived up to her name a few kms later showing us a boa she found by the trail.

Megs new buddy


It was either hot hot hot or windy as all hell, and we switchbacked our way slowly down the mountain crossing below our path sometimes by as little as 10m. We saw more snakes, baby black ones or angry rattlers, and lizards that have camo tails. And finally ended up camped out in a small cave escaping the sun and the wind.

Camo tail


After lunch we only had 2kms till we reached the desert floor and our next water source, a poorly designed drinking fountain that was nearly impossible to use in the high wind. 

Water = life


The heat increased as we walked deeper and deeper into the valley towards the I10, a busy freight train line and multiple wind farms. But so did the wind and soon we were wading through hot sand, with dust being blown into every crevice of our bodies. It was only 5km to the I10 underpass but those kms seemed to take forever and made us question our sanity.

Walking into the valley


Meg had called trail angle Hillbilly at lunch to see if we could stay at his house tonight and like the angle he is he was waiting for us at the I10 underpass with his show truck. We all piled in and then after a 5mile drive piled into Hillbilly’s house where he cooked us dinner, gave us beers, let us dirty up his shower and even wash our clothes. Thank you Hillbilly you are very gregarious, friendly and generous.

Hillbilly and his prize truck

Oh and also, Meg/5Layers has been busy getting everyone a Trail name. Names given today ~ Quiz, that’s me Phoebe, Mouse, our new friend Danny, ?Blossom for Tameika, Fun Dip for Dave. We have also named our troop Osmosis as we are a bunch of Aussies who suck all single hikers into our vortex.

Day 14 – San Jacinto Hut to W Fork Snow Creek – 16km

Part of the gang crossing some snow

Tonight we slumped under San Jacinto, a stark contrast to last night. We are once again back in our tents. The wind is still with us, but it’s warmer, there is dirt instead of snow and we are once again gearing up to carry water for quite some distance tomorrow. 

We climbed that! Last night we stood at the highest point of the mountain in the background

Back track many hours: Picture waking up in a hut bursting with 11 sleeping bodies, 11 bodies which all wake at 5.30 and begin to pack up their things. Our morning slumber turned into a slow rumble of letting out mats, stuffing sleeping bags, small chit chat, and the occasional serenade from a hiker who is carrying his guitar. The sun rose pink over San Jacinto, it was beautiful and still. We waited like horses about to head out for our party to be ready. Stamping our cold feet, the condensation of our breath visible we donned our microspikes and headed out into the morning. The cold night had turned the slushy snow icy and walking was easy. Majority of the first section of today’s walk was straight down hill. No path was apparent and we navigated our way down switch backs always checking we were headed in the right direction. Dave and fibs navigated and I led the others down less steep gradient routes. Pine trees look particularly nice in the snow. When there isn’t snow there is often only dirt as understory, but in the snow the pines look beautiful and stately. We were aiming to join up with another track on the mountain and along the way passed a portaloo standing lonely in the snow. It was half buried and filled with snow inside. 

Portaloo in snow

Walking in snow is slow going and exhausting. You focus much more on each foot fall and when the snow is soft it can really take it out of you. Each foot step requires judgement, and tentativeness. You often slip and slide and have to use your walking polls as extra balancing arms. 

Sunrise at San Jacinto

Eventually we met the fuller ridge trail. This had been quite an adventure often heading steeply down off the white mountain. We crossed a few creeks and one larger river. While crossing I (meg) pegholed, my foot went down through some soft hole and hit the water. I pulled up my sodden shoe and kept going. 

Fuller ridge would take us over the San Jacinto range and down to meet a road which the path crossed to leave the mountain area. It consisted mainly of gradual downs with snow drifts in which we would walk across using our microspikes. After the ruggedness of yesterday Fuller Ridge was easier than I expected. About half way along we walked down to the largest river we have crossed so far. Icy cold water raged down over granite boulders and the flanks of the river were heavy with snow. We stopped here briefly to filter water and kept walking. 

Crossing the river


At one point I led us off the trail and while the others turned around I scrambled up through some trees, grabbing their trunks and pulling myself up. My pack broke branches and I finally got myself up over the boulders and back to the track. Now long after as we crossed a snow drift Harriet took a big step onto a muddy patch and fell on her bum. She let out a little shriek, got quite a muddy butt cheek but was thankfully okay. She remedied her dirty behind by crouching down and using the snow to get some mud off. It worked, kind of.  About a mile before the fuller ridge car park we took a long lunch break. 

Pinecone looking a little muddy

 

There was no snow after the car park, and we found out selves once again in the low chapparell. We had our first view of the i10 highway. A big scar running through the desert. Exposed again to the sun and the wind we walked steadily for 5 kms to the hikers coliseum. It’s a cute campsite by a stream with a big old oak and lots of pines. I can’t imagine any gladiatorial battles taking place here. 

Tamika & Joe, happy at camp


During the day we stuck together mainly in the snow. I stopped to fix something on my pack at one stage and was left behind. There is beauty in the silence of the snow and at this point I appreciated while people enjoy solo hiking. The forest opens up. Little birds come onto the trail, you can hear their songs. The breeze whispers in the canopy and for me it is a time of being absorbed in all that’s going on around you. 


Tomorrow is a long day of switch backs to the i10. We will watch San Jacinto fade into the background and again begin to feel the heat of the desert floor. 

At cradle rock


Note from Phoebe – I found walking in the soft snow really quite scary, pretty much after I postholed while traversing a really steep slope and then really struggled to get out. I was quite anxious last night about walking in the snow again not realising that in the morning it would be hard and easy to grip to. Meg and Pinecone made a plan to walk as a group early the next morning and stick together and that really helped me.