PCT hike from Warner Springs to Anza
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. Caltopo Map of our hike
The only other problem was logistics with our car. We really needed two cars, one at each end. I tried to convince Hikin’ Jim to accompany us, and he was willing enough, but his new job made an extended trip impossible. So we finally resorted to renting a car, but not for four days ($$$). Our daughter volunteered to drive us and return it within one day. Excellent!
We left San Diego at dawn and dropped off our car at the PCT trailhead parking lot on Highway 74 in Anza. Then we all piled into the rental car and drove the long way around, south to Highway 79 in Warner Springs.
At this point, we’re committed to hiking all 41 miles if we ever expect to see our car again!
We carried it with us (uphill out of the canyon) for another three miles. This had to last us until the next afternoon.
Video of Agua Caliente Creek near PCT Mile 116
We camped less than a mile further, on an abandoned spur of Lost Valley Road, which was one of the few spots both flat and clear of brush. It wasn’t the prettiest campsite I’ve ever used, but it had a nice view to the west, and we were tired enough that we didn’t care. We knew that tomorrow would be the toughest day, ten miles of hiking and most of it uphill, so we planned to get out of the sleeping bag before dawn.
The next morning we began climbing in earnest. Luckily we were in the shade. We saw residue of snow on most of the north-facing sections of trail; this was from the storm the previous weekend. It was melting fast in the 70 degree heat, but it was fun to walk on.
Technically, watershed-wise, Hot Springs Mountain sits directly on the Pacific Crest, with rain on this side heading west to the Pacific Ocean, and on the far side draining into the Anza Borrego Desert.
Eventually we reached Lost Valley Road where it crosses the PCT at mile 127. This was one of the few places where we could get water in this area, and it wasn’t from a stream. We visited Trail Angel Mike’s “Skyranch Sanctuary” and they provided us with some water from their garden hose. It was well-water, so we decided to filter it just in case. It tasted fine. Two gentlemen were there that day (both claimed to be named Mike, but not the Mike who is the trail angel) and they were hanging out, playing jazz on the stereo and enjoying the fine weather. They offered to share a spaghetti dinner with us, but we declined. We had to hike two more miles, all of it uphill (now with extra water-weight), to get to our campsite for the night.
Video of a lazy afternoon at Trail Angel Mike’s. Warning: Loud music! And it isn’t a video artifact; it was REALLY loud, but good, too.
All filled up with precious water, we hiked uphill in the shadow of Bucksnort Mountain, which was nice as it was much cooler than the sunny hiking we’d done earlier. We found a wonderful campsite on the saddle next to Combs Peak.
The views from here were great! Well worth the extra effort to climb up here with all that water. It was late when we arrived, and the sun set as we ate dinner. Then we slept like logs. We were exhausted.
Thomas Mountain is left of center, with the Nine Peaks and San Gorgonio in the far distance behind it, and San Jacinto right of center. The town of Anza lies in the valley below. We had seen its lights twinkling in the night when we got up to check out the stars. Beautiful!
After packing up, our third day consisted in hiking down and down and down into the desert. The trail wound around various low hills and it was easy hiking. Eventually we reached Tule Spring at mile 137, down at the end of Tule Canyon Road. There was a big cement water tank there, with a large valve and a hose to get water. We never ventured down into the canyon itself to see if there was running water. Vicki decided to take a fast cool-off shower under the hose as it had been very hot hiking in the sun all day. The water was much colder than she expected! But she was refreshed just the same.
There were many lovely tiny wildflowers, and even one amazingly large tree standing all alone out in the low chaparral bushes. Vicki gave it a hug, as it was lonely.
Near the end of the day’s hike, we came upon a water cistern near Coyote Canyon Road. This was a large (20 x 20 feet) sloping cement structure that was designed to funnel all rainwater down to a catch-basin at the lowest point. Quite ingenious!
Luckily for us it had rained the weekend prior to our trip, so the cistern was nearly full. Otherwise we would have had to hike two miles back to Tule Spring. This water source was less than a mile from our intended camp for the night at mile 140. As you can see, there are a few “floaties” lurking on the surface, but it filtered clean and tasted just fine!
We didn’t have any great views from this campsite, but that was OK with us as we were tired. Also, stopping here was part of my evil plan to cheat a bit. Coyote Canyon Road was accessible by car from the town of Anza off Highway 371 (though you might be happier driving a truck with high clearance). So the next morning, after packing up our tent and eating breakfast, we left my backpack and all the heavy gear stashed behind a big boulder. We would come back later in the car and pick it up! Then we packed the bare minimum for a twelve mile dayhike into Vicki’s light Osprey pack. I had no hesitation whatsoever in being the pack mule under these conditions, even though the trail was predominantly uphill the entire way.
The green leaves show that there’s water down there somewhere. We could smell it, but we never saw any water flowing. Nice spot to camp.
It had just been stocked in preparation for the hordes of through-hikers that would soon be following our footsteps. We still had plenty from the cistern so we only entered our names in the register. Thanks, trail angels!
Combs Peak (Bucksnort Mountain) on the far left was where we’d camped two nights previous, nearly 17 trail miles to the south.
If you follow that wash downhill you’ll end up in Borrego Springs. Eventually.
This was about as crest-like as it gets. The trail travels directly on the watershed dividing line here, with steep drop-offs to the right into the desert. Fun!
Highway 74 lies below us, and the hike is nearly over!
We weren’t surprised that there was only one car parked here. During four days and forty one miles of hiking, we hadn’t seen a single person travelling on the PCT! Surely, this is one of the least-visited stretches of this trail. If you’re looking for the beauty and solitude of the high desert and chaparral country, this is a great place to hike.
Caltopo Map of the hike.
LOTS more pictures from the hike on my Flickr Page