PCT Onyx Summit to Whitewater April 2017

As Pacific Crest Trail “Section Hikers” we differ from the true “PCT Through-Hiker” in that we can hike the trail in any order and in any direction that we please.  This is the kind of freedom we like.  Our previous two hikes in California Section C were both Northbound, but this hike was planned from the outset to be Southbound. Why?  Because we did our homework and  checked the elevation profile of the trail.  We made darn sure that we started at a significantly higher point than the finish!  As we stated to the other hikers that we met along the way (all of them sweating and puffing up the trail):  “We take our PCT hikes downhill – both ways!”

And this section was truly a whopper of a downhill, with over 6500 feet between the highest and lowest points.  Being the ever-changing PCT, there was also more than 3000 feet of uphill climbing here and there along the way, which yielded a total descent of 9500 feet!  This was nearly two miles of elevation loss!  And it would have been a true knee-destroyer if it weren’t for the fact that it spread the change out over a total of more than 35 miles.  True, some sections were steeper than others, but all in all, the PCT is known for being a well-graded trail.  Just the same, we sure were glad to be hiking southbound this time!

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PCT Lake Morena March 2017

This hike on the PCT was special for several reasons.  It was our first backpacking trip of the year, after waiting through a long cold winter.  It was also our first backpacking event after waiting months for Vicki’s shinsplints to finally finish healing.  And, lastly and most importantly, this trip was intended to complete the final sub-section of California Section A on the Pacific Crest Trail that we had yet to hike.  Hooray!

That it also went to Lake Morena, the site of the world-famous PCT Kick-Off, was merely an added bonus.

Vicki looking out over Lake Morena from the Pacific Crest Trail

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PCT Onyx Summit to Big Bear July 2016

We decided to hike yet another section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) over the Fourth of July Weekend.  This time, our plan was to hike the section just north of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, covering 27 miles over three days, from Onyx Summit on Highway 38 to Poligue Canyon Road, in the mountains above Big Bear Lake.

These new miles would connect to the section that we hiked back on Memorial Day Weekend.  The end result would be that the two of us completed a total of 62 miles of PCT California Section C (about half of the section).  Maybe next spring we’ll tackle the other parts of Section C, when the weather is cooler and the mountains are wetter.

Looking out over the Mojave Desert from the PCT east of Big Bear Lake

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PCT Big Bear to Hesperia May 2016

This backpacking trip was planned in advance to be a tough one, a long one, to get our 2016 hiking season off to a solid start.  And, if you want to collect some serious trail mileage, there’s no better place to do it than the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail).  At 2600 miles long, it offers plenty of hiking excitement.  We’d already done most of the sections down near San Diego (as well as assorted sections in northern California and Washington), and were now “shopping” the Los Angeles area for new PCT ideas.  In fact, we had planned to do one section near San Gorgonio Mountain last year when the Lake Fire broke out and burned for weeks, causing a trail closure right where we wanted to hike!  So this year, even though the burnt section was still closed, we set our sights a bit further north, to a section near Big Bear Lake.

A popular trail, the PCT has been thoroughly mapped out; it’s been broken down into named sections, complete with virtual mileage markers, GPS tracks, and downloadable topographic maps, all available online.  For those who care about PCT nomenclature, the hike I chose was part of California Section C, namely: PCT miles 279 through 314.  In other words, we’d be hiking 35 miles total, beginning at a dirt road just north of Big Bear Lake near the town of Fawnskin and heading roughly northwest, descending gradually toward the Mojave Desert, ending up in a dirt parking lot at the end of Highway 173 near the town of Hesperia.  After considerable study, making use of various online water reports, I came up with a plan.  I figured that this hike could be done by the two of us in about three days.  Three LONG days, because we’re not exactly the fastest of hikers.

A highlight of our trip: Fish in Deep Creek checking out Vicki's Feet

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Mount Baden-Powell June 2015

For our first summer hike this year we decided to visit the San Gabriel Mountains. Of course, there wasn’t much water flowing in the Southern California Wilderness after two years of drought, so our choices were limited. Unless we carried our own water. But that is also limiting, as water is heavy. Still, it seemed like an idea worth trying.

So we stared at some maps. Two years ago, we camped near Little Jimmy Spring and attempted to day-hike to Mount Baden-Powell. We got a late start and never made it the whole way to the summit, and that defeat was still bothering me. So we thought to rectify it this year. We considered camping at Little Jimmy yet again, as it always has water, but what we really wanted was peace and quiet and solitude, and Little Jimmy doesn’t have those qualities in abundance, at least not on a summer weekend.

So I stared at the map, and noticed that there was a trail from Dawson Saddle to the PCT. Maybe we could camp there. It’s much closer to Baden-Powell. True, we’d have to carry our own water, but maybe it would be worth it. Looking on Google Earth, it appeared that the ridge just above the trail about a mile from the saddle had a broad flat area on top. Zooming in, it looked like a certain-sure camping spot. Carrying two gallons of water is never fun, but only carrying them a mile seemed eminently do-able. So that’s what we did.

Me hiking in the early morning on the the PCT east of Throop Peak

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PCT Hwy 79-74 March 2015

Vicki and I backpacked a section of the PCT from Highway 79 in Warner Springs to Highway 74 in Anza, California. We hiked 41 miles total from PCT Mile 111 to PCT Mile 152 over a span of four days. The trail began in chaparral, descended down into the Anza-Borrego Desert, and climbed back up into chaparral at the finish.

The hike was done back in early March as we wanted to avoid high temperatures. This section has relatively little shade, as most of the route lies within the borders of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, so overheating can easily become an issue.

This section is also notorious for its lack of water. We might have tried hiking it earlier this winter, except there were no recent entries on the PCT Water Report and we didn’t dare attempt it without any beta, especially during a dry year like this. I kept checking the water report, and finally in late February one strong hiker passed through and updated everything. Hooray! After that, it was simply a matter of balancing our hiking ability with the known water locations and coming up with a plan of attack. We’re not ultra-light twenty-mile-a-day PCT through-hikers. Oh, no. Carrying full packs, twelve miles is about the most that we might attempt, and we’d surely be whupped by the end of the day. After studying the map, I concluded that four days would do it.

Cholla cactus and other cacti began appearing as we reached lower elevation

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PCT Route 74 to Idyllwild May 2013

Vicki and I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Route 74 in Anza to Humber Park in Idyllwild (PCT mile 152 to 179) on Memorial Day Weekend in 2013. It was a 30 mile hike which took us four days and three nights. On this particular hike, the location of water sources plays a huge role, so our original plan was to hike three easy five mile days and a grueling fifteen mile day, camping at Live Oak Spring, Cedar Spring, and Apache Spring. But weather concerns (and an offer to give a friend, Hikin’ Jim, a lift back to his car) made us change the hike to a ten-five-ten-five miler, thus skipping Live Oak Spring entirely, and sleeping the final night away from water (meaning that we had to carry more water with us on that ten mile day). And that’s what we did.

As you look at the photos, you’ll see that the PCT lives up to its name, as we stayed on or near the crest of the San Jacinto massif the entire time. Lots of climbing, but also lots and lots of views. That’s what the PCT is all about. The early part of the hike climbs up out of the high desert, and the vegetation is mostly scrubby chaparral with patches of oaks and the occasional pine tree. It was fairly hot in the sun, so we hiked slowly and took rests. The later part of the hike was at a much higher elevation, with more oaks and pine forest, and the climbing made us hot, so we hiked slowly and took rests. This seems to be our hiking style, I’m afraid: Slow and restful. But at least it leaves plenty of time to take pictures!

Looking south from the top of Murray Canyon just east of Red Tahquitz

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PCT Route S22 to Scissors Crossing March 2013

Continuing this year’s PCT extravaganza, Vicki and I decided to tackle the 24 miles of very dry hiking between Routes 78 and S22. This hike lies within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and is known for being one of the driest stretches in Southern California.

We originally had planned to do it as a dayhike, but after the blisters of the previous 16-miler, we decided that 24 miles required an overnight stay, even though it meant carrying more weight. Normally, there would be no water at all on this lonely stretch of trail, and we’d have to carry two days of water (which is prohibitive) but we were in luck: Internet sources told us that some PCT “Trail Angels” had come to the rescue and dropped off a cache of water not far from the trail, out near the midpoint of this trail section.

This time, however, we decided to cheat a bit. We would hike the trail from north to south. Why? Elevation change. The north end began about a thousand feet higher. Sure, we’d be climbing and descending more than that along the way, but the net result would be a downhill hike. We also enlisted our son to drive with us so that we would drop our car off at the terminus.

HDR shot of the sunrise and Granite Mountain from the PCT

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PCT Route S22 to 79 March 2013

This story is about another one of our dayhikes on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, here in San Diego County. This particular section covers the trail from what is known as PCT mile 101 to mile 111 (i.e. from County Road S22 to the second crossing of State Route 79) near the town of Warner Springs.  It was an easy ten-mile day, with only minimal elevation gain or loss. Being lazy, we chose the direction with a net loss in elevation (south to north), but it wouldn’t have mattered much, as it only gained about 500 feet the other way.  This section of trail was much different than the others we’d hiked, because it never really entered the mountains at all. Instead, it wandered along over miles of rolling grassy pastureland.

We left our house before dawn and headed east.  We took two cars, with our son giving us a ride; he helped by allowing us to leave our car at the terminus in Warner Springs.  The actual hike started when we got dropped off at the S22 trailhead.  By then it was light, but the air was cool, as we were down in a valley bottom where the cold air settles in the night.  And the only way to get warm was to get moving.  We posed next to the Pacific Crest Trail symbol and began hiking in earnest.

Me on the PCT carrying my big pack with not much in it but water

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PCT Cuyamaca to Scissors Crossing Feb 2013

After a few shorter local hikes, Vicki and I decided to attempt a long sixteen-mile hike on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the first real “hike” of the 2013 season, although we didn’t camp overnight. We also have been dreaming of hiking the entire PCT some day, from Mexico to Canada, but fully realize that we will never be able to get that much time off from work. Hiking the PCT in “sections” will have to do, for now.

The section we hiked was in San Diego, from near Cuyamaca Lake down to Scissors Crossing, where Highways 78 and S2 cross. This corresponds to what is officially known as PCT Mile 62 to PCT Mile 77. Basically, we started up high in the mountains, at 4800 feet elevation, and, over 15 miles, dropped down into the high desert at 2300 feet. So, even though it was a long hike, it was, thankfully, mostly downhill.

Rather than a there-and-back hike with one car, we used two cars, dropping one car off at the end. We also started at dawn, and hoped that we could keep up our pace and avoid hiking in the dark.

Hiking along the north slope of Granite Mountain on the PCT

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