PCT Route 79 to 74 March 2015

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.

PCT trailhead parking on Highway 79
PCT trailhead parking on Highway 79

At this point, we’re committed to hiking all 41 miles if we ever expect to see our car again!

The first part of the hike was along Agua Caliente Creek, which was flowing nicely, thanks in part to the inch of rain the weekend prior.
The first part of the hike was along Agua Caliente Creek, which was flowing nicely, thanks in part to the inch of rain the weekend prior.

After five miles along the creek, we pumped two gallons of water
After five miles along the creek, we pumped two gallons of water

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 continue gaining elevation and better views on the PCT
We continue gaining elevation and better views
Ribbonbush or Red Shanks variety of Chamise chapparal which dominates this section of PCT
Ribbonbush or Red Shanks variety of Chamise chapparal which dominates this section of PCT
Rocky Mountain and Beauty Peak (5545 ft) in the distance from the PCT near Lost Valley Road
Rocky Mountain and Beauty Peak (5545 ft) in the distance from the PCT near Lost Valley Road

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.

Our campsite at the old side road from the PCT near Lost Valley Road
Our campsite at the old side road from the PCT near Lost Valley Road

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.

Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail
Snow on the trail
Hot Springs Mountain (elevation 6533 feet), the highest point in San Diego County
Hot Springs Mountain (elevation 6533 feet), the highest point in San Diego County

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.

Combs Peak (6161 ft) and Bucksnort Mountain - we'd be climbing up to that flat saddle to camp
Combs Peak (6161 ft) and Bucksnort Mountain – we’d be climbing up to that flat saddle to camp
This big gaping granite boulder deserves a name...
This big gaping granite boulder deserves a name…
Vicki put some snow in her hat to cool off as we hiked
Vicki put some snow in her hat to cool off as we hiked
Manzanita blooming
Manzanita blooming

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.

Skyranch Sanctuary sign on Lost Valley Road
Skyranch Sanctuary sign on Lost Valley Road
Filtering well water from the jug/hose at Trail Angel Mike’s “Skyranch Sanctuary” at mile 127

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.

PCT trail sign at Lost Valley Road, heading uphill
PCT trail sign at Lost Valley Road, heading uphill
Looking back south to Trail Angel Mike's place
Looking back south to Trail Angel Mike’s place
Heading uphill in the shade toward campsite CS0129
Heading uphill in the shade toward campsite CS0129
Campsite on the saddle next to Combs Peak
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.

Lovely dawn light on the PCT at Combs Peak
Lovely dawn light on the PCT at Combs Peak

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.

Panorama view north and east as we hike down and down into the desert. San Jacinto and Toro Peaks are in the distance
Panorama view north and east as we hike down and down into the desert. San Jacinto and Toro Peaks are in the distance
Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak as we descend into the desert
Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak as we descend into the desert
We can see the trail winding around the perimeter of Peak 4255 - no, we didn't climb it
We can see the trail winding around the perimeter of Peak 4255 – no, we didn’t climb it
Trail signs where the PCT crosses Tule Canyon Road - Tule Spring is downhill to the right
Trail signs where the PCT crosses Tule Canyon Road – Tule Spring is downhill to the right
Tule Spring on the PCT at mile 137, down at the end of Tule Canyon Road
Tule Spring on the PCT at mile 137, down at the end of Tule Canyon Road
I wet my head at Tule Spring (WR0137) - it was refreshing!
I wet my head at Tule Spring (WR0137) – it was refreshing!
Cholla cactus and other cacti began appearing as we reached lower elevation
Cholla cactus and other cacti began appearing as we reached lower elevation

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.

Yellow daisy wildflowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert near PCT mile 138
Yellow daisy wildflowers in the Anza-Borrego Desert near PCT mile 138
One lone pine tree out in the desert
One lone pine tree out in the desert

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!

Water Cistern near Coyote Canyon Road
Water Cistern near Coyote Canyon Road
Water Cistern near Coyote Canyon Road
Water Cistern near Coyote Canyon Road

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!

Our campsite on the PCT near mile 140
Our campsite on the PCT near mile 140
Sunset clouds at our campsite near Coyote Canyon Road
Sunset clouds at our campsite near Coyote Canyon Road

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.

Pack and heavy gear stashed behind a big boulder
Pack and heavy gear stashed behind a big boulder
Nance Canyon
Nance Canyon

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.

Spring wildflower in the desert
Spring wildflower in the desert
Looking south down Nance Canyon from high up on the PCT near mile 141
Looking south down Nance Canyon from high up on the PCT near mile 141
Water cache at mile 143
Water cache at mile 143

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!

Cooling off our hot feet in the shade of a huge boulder at the CS144 campsite
Cooling off our hot feet in the shade of a huge boulder at the CS144 campsite
View southwest across the Terwilliger Valley in Anza
View southwest across the Terwilliger Valley in Anza

Combs Peak (Bucksnort Mountain) on the far left was where we’d camped two nights previous, nearly 17 trail miles to the south.

Someone planted California Poppies on the side of the trail
Someone planted California Poppies on the side of the trail
Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak over Alkali Wash and Horse Canyon
Santa Rosa Mountain and Toro Peak over Alkali Wash and Horse Canyon

If you follow that wash downhill you’ll end up in Borrego Springs.  Eventually.

Cooling off my hot feet in the shade. Every hiker knows what a heavenly feeling this is!
Cooling off my hot feet in the shade. Every hiker knows what a heavenly feeling this is!
Lookout Mountain (elev 5590 ft). The PCT climbs over its left shoulder.
Lookout Mountain (elev 5590 ft). The PCT climbs over its left shoulder.
Hiking the narrow crest between Burnt Valley and Horse Canyon south of Lookout Mountain
Hiking the narrow crest between Burnt Valley and Horse Canyon south of Lookout Mountain

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!

Panorama view north toward San Jacinto Peak from the saddle on Lookout Mountain
Panorama view north toward San Jacinto Peak from the saddle on Lookout Mountain

Highway 74 lies below us, and the hike is nearly over!

Zoomed-in view of our car in the PCT trailhead parking lot on Highway 74 near mile 152
Zoomed-in view of our car in the PCT trailhead parking lot on Highway 74 near mile 152

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

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.