Another epic and exhausting day on the PCT, however so scenic and exhilarating! Today was another 20 miler, in 91•F heat and with no water all day, and gaining 1500m in elevation, it really tested our confidence, patience and our ability to pase ourselves.
We started off eating the complimentary breakfast at the Best Western where we had stayed the night before. We all drank as much water as our bodies would hold in preparation for the hot desert floor. We had all agreed that 6L was a good amount to take each and we would be dry camping that night and the next water was 35km away.
Cajon Pass (pronounced Cahon) is a strange intersection of rail and highway infrastructure that dominates the landscape. Inbetween train bridges and gas stations arise beautiful sloped rocky outcrops and cliff making for quite the wild-west town. The freight lines and highways are alway moving, non-stop with traffic whilst the desert is so slow and moves minutely, unnoticeable in juxtaposition. I (Pinecone) loved walking through the under passes and bridges in the morning. It was exciting to be venturing into this new territory!
The climb started at 8am (probably should have gotten up earlier and I instantly regretted eating that waffle back at the hotel). Bloated and puffed (hehe) the first set of hills set in motion the climbing for the rest of the day. Our packs were really heavy and uncomfortable. I can’t believe we were carrying more water that this on our first day of the PCT.
We cross a wide river valley to find an unsuspected water cash in the middle of the desert. Gotta love those trail angles. We all hang around a guzzle as many litres as we can before starting the main section of the climb. I see two of the Tarantula Wasps (please refer to day 22 post) and they make anxieties run a little high. This main section of the climb is airless, through desert that has recently been burnt out (10 months ago). It’s impossible to avoid the sun and it makes walking slow and sweaty. At 11:30 we have our first break under some burnt canopies and are happy with our 16km progress.
The trail soon hits the top of the ridge. Whilst the burnt area still extends as far as the eye can see the breeze picks up and the gradient flatterns somewhat, making walking slightly easier. We kick on till 1:30pm looking for any morsel of shade to spend the hottest hours of the day. We finally get to some large burnt pine trees and we relax and eat some lunch. At lunch time I realise I have actually be carrying 8L of water. No wonder my pack is so heavy. I’m annoyed for not counting properly but also kinda proud of myself for walking 23km by midday with this load.
For the afternoon we are stoked we only have to walk 10km till we are at our planned campsite. We pass a PCTA worker who tells us of his adventures last year hiking the trail. Apart from that we don’t see any other hikers and the mountain appears deserted. We suspect most of our fellow hikers are planning to walk at night, although in hindsight the day heat was bearable and the views were too good to pass us for a night hike.
The last 5km are totally exhausting. I check our gps location on the app every 200m, convinced that we must nearly be there. We do get some very gratifying views back to San Jacinto and San Grigornio and of the Mt Baldy Summit, clad in snow. My feet are in complete agony and I stumble into camp and I really don’t think I could have walked 1km longer.
The campsite is glorious with desert views and pines and soft needles to pitch our tent on. We camp with a lovely Swiss couple and we all go through our food bags and make fun concoctions for dinner! Town tomorrow! So exciting! 🙂