Adventures in hiking…

Posts tagged “Pacific Crest Trail

San Bernardino Mountains – Cedar Springs Trail

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Where the pavement ends, the fun begins.

 

U.S.D.A. Identifier: Cedar Springs Trail-4E13

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks.

Distance as hiked: 6 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400ft., Top of trail- 6,800ft.

Temps:50-57 degrees

Difficulty: moderate

The Mountain Fire in the summer of 2013 devasted a large area of the southern San Bernardino Mountains.  Located near Mountain Center and Idyllwild, Ca. the fire eventually spread to over 25,000 acres and burned in steep, difficult terrain.  I don’t know of any deaths, but unfortunately homes were destroyed.   Some info and pics here:  http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=81677

The fire affected an approximate 10 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail and a half-dozen trails throughout the San Jacinto Forest area.  PCT hikers in 2014 and again in 2015 will have to detour onto Hwy 74 before getting back on the trail near Idyllwild.  It also destroyed one of our favorite trails – Spitler Peak.

We would find a trail just south of the burn perimeter named Cedar Springs Trail. It’s located off of Hwy 74, about two miles from the junction with Hwy 371 and four miles south of Lake Hemet.   There is a trail marker along the highway and a paved road takes you up and over a ridge several miles to the trailhead.  The trail is located on private land, named Camp Scherman – a 700 acre camp owned by the Girl Scouts of Orange County.   The pavement  ends about 100 yards past the trailhead and parking is very limited, you basically have to angle your vehicle on the inclined hill.

The path starts out on a fire road and makes its way into a wooded area through a gate.  There are several gates on this hike; not sure why but suspect there are horses or maybe some free range cattle.  We paralleled a dry creek bed and the trail becomes a rocky, rutted path that appears to be a dry creek.   The oak trees are the dominant tree and offer nice shade.  We came up to a picnic area consisting of two tables near a meadow.  To the right, the trees and shrubs are concentrated in a riparian area.  We noticed a ribbon of a stream about 25 yards off-trail.   Ahead was an ominous sign that made us giggle.

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An ominous sign

Up until this point, it was a leisurely walkabout along a fire road and a riparian path through the woods.  Now, we would hit some switchbacks and begin a gradual climb.  The views usually get better when you have switchbacks.  If nothing else, the perspective changes.  The hillside was covered with young yucca plants and skeletons of the old ones.  It’s an interesting plant and can live for many years.  I suspect the average life of this variety is less than ten years.  Some species live to be over a hundred.

We rounded a switchback and were confronted with a mixed breed Rottweiler off-leash who was barking angrily at us.  I got in front of my wife and held out my poles in case he charged.  Three women were about 50 ft. behind and his owner tried to get him to stop advancing and barking at us, but he wasn’t very obedient.  Eventually, she got him under control and we passed.  I love animals, but some breeds are a bit intimidating on the trail.   I reigned in my frustration over the incident and hiked on.

As we hit a summit and intersection with the PCT, we also saw some other signs which were disappointing.

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Sign at the junction of Cedar Springs Trail and the PCT. Aww man!

Oh well, we will just hang a right and go south on the PCT for a bit.

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We removed the graffiti sticker on the PCT sign.

The wind picked up as we trekked south and eventually we found an area sheltered from the wind looking down into the desert.

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View from the PCT into Anza-Borrego Desert.

As we enjoyed the solitude and had our lunch with some hot tea, I noticed someone passing about 30 ft. behind us moving fairly quickly.  I don’t believe he saw us because we were down behind some rocks.    After lunch, we hit the trail for our return trip.   Within a few minutes, we ran into the guy who passed us.  He looked a bit frazzled and stressed.   He had a distinct British accent and mentioned that he had been lost for several hours just south of here and was supposed to meet his wife at a restaurant nearby.  I assured him that he was on the PCT heading back in the right direction.  This gentleman was out alone, no map, no backpack, a GPS with a dead battery and a 20 oz. bottle of juice.   We made sure he was ok and followed behind him.  He was moving quickly and eventually disappeared.

Our descent was uneventful as I reflected back on another enjoyable day on the trail.  While the beautiful Sierras are the ultimate eye-candy, the short hikes on the PCT near our home are a good prescription for the office cubicle doldrums.

Lessons Learned:

– When hiking alone, pack the 10 hiking essentials and always let someone know where you are hiking.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

– When day hiking, I carry a little extra water and snacks in case we run into a lost hiker.

– If you get lost, take a break, calm down and try to get reoriented.

– If you are hopelessly lost, do not get off the path.  Stay put, eventually you will be found.

Gear we use:

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

SPOT-3O Spot Gen3 GPS Satellite Messenger

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A yucca looking down from the top of the stalk

 


The Pedro Fages to Pacific Crest Trail

Nestled between Cuyamaca State Park and the southern section of Anza Borrego State Park is a nice trek along the Pedro Fages Trail.   As we pulled off the road and read the trail marker, I tried to visualize the path that the Native Americans and later the Europeans took as they made their way through Oriflamme Canyon.   The trail starts on the Sunset Highway (S1) near the junction of Hwy 79 at Cuyamaca Lake.  The California Riding and Hiking Trail which actually starts near Otay Lake in southern San Diego County passes through Cuyamaca and through this area toward Chillihua Valley.

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What makes this hike enjoyable are the wide open views as you start out in Mason Valley.   One of the things that amazes me about southern California is the diversity of the land.  Sure, it is dry and rocky in most areas, but you will find contrast all around.  Today, the deep blue sky with scattered clouds was set apart from the rocky terrain of the Laguna Mountains.

The single track trail with wide open vistas made you want to run, but I’m a hiker not a runner.  The breeze from the Anza-Borrego Desert made the dry grasses wave in unison.  It was tempting to lie down in the meadow and just watch the cloud formations, but we had a goal today.  We would hit the junction with the PCT and see how far we would go.

After 1.5 miles, you come to a Jeep trail.  Out here they call them truck roads, but they’re mostly service roads for the USFS.  Turn right, go through a gate and you will see small signs for the PCT.  Turn right and you’ll follow the PCT to Mexico.  A little farther up on the left is a battered sign for my favorite trail north.  My wife and I talked about setting up some trail magic near here for the PCT class of 2015.  Hmm, we will have to see.  I’ve always had thoughts about becoming a trail angel.  People who bring drinks, food to PCT thru-hikers are trail angels and the stuff they provide is trail magic.  It’s an awesome way to bless people when they least expect it.

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A “classic” Pacific Crest Trail sign.

The trail has been fairly level to this point but as you follow it east-northeast it begins to drop into the canyon.  It appears to descend around 800-1,000 ft.  This is a very quiet hike through here, the only sounds are aircraft passing by and the fluttering birds.   It’s definitely one of the trails less travelled.   We were not exactly thrilled about hiking down and then having to hike back up at the end, but sometimes it is just what you have to do.

At the bottom of the canyon is another Jeep trail and the PCT hikers will take a right and walk along the road before bearing left 1/4 mile up.  We took our lunch break at the bottom on a couple of boulders and took our shoes and socks off to cool down.  It’s always a good idea to remove the boots/shoes on a warm hike.  Helps to cut down on the blisters.  A rare patch of cool, green grass made it even more inviting.  A cool creek or mountain stream would have been perfect, but we are in the desert of So-Cal.

The hike up was a tough climb, and I must have left my trail legs in the Sierras because my calves were complaining.  This would be a hot hike in late spring, summer and not recommended.  Back at the main fire road, we noticed a Forest Service or Cal-Fire concrete water tank.  On top was a steel lid to the inside.   Unfortunately, it was empty but it sure would make a nice sleeping bunker on a cold night.

 

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A valve to the forest service water tank. Of course I had to try it.

After the leg workout, the valley and meadow was a nice way to finish the out and back hike.  About 200 yards out, a lone coyote trotted by.  I tried howling at him, but my throat was parched and all that came out was a failed attempt of a silly human trying to make an animal sound.   He did glance over at us and barely slowed down.

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Looking for the Roadrunner….

Today’s out and back to the PCT was a solid 6 miles.  It was good to be back on the trail with my hiking partner.  This trail didn’t have the best vistas, but any day that you can hike a section of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good day.   Thanks for stopping by my blog and remember to take the 10 Essentials when you trek into the backcountry.

  1. Navigation (map and compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter
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I always hug a PCT marker whenever I get the chance.

 

 

 


Backcountry Hiking: How not to Cross Streams and Other Bodies of Water

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If you hike in the backcountry long enough you will eventually come across a brook, stream, creek, river or ginormous mud puddle.  You will be faced with a decision.  Do I cross it, go around or turn back?

I once came upon a large mud puddle filled with the smelliest black mud ever on the Appalachian Trail and noticed half of someone’s hiking pole.  Wow, that was a run-on sentence.  I wondered, where the other half was and if the person fell into the bog. Actually did meet the owner of the broken pole at a lean-to later.  I did make it across the bog and learned how to do the splits that day.  Now, I can sing tenor.

Most of you will cross the creek, especially if there is a bridge.  I’m sure there are some out there that even have bridge phobias.   Kind of like driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and realizing midway that 23 mile long bridges with little or no guard rails scare the crap out of you.

What if there isn’t a bridge when you come upon that creek that is swollen to twice its’ size due to the thunderstorm that just occurred?  No fear, the purpose of my blog is to help you.  Actually, blogging just gives me something to occupy my time during my government furlough and keeps me from writing angry letters to my representatives.

Let’s assume there are no bridges, logs or rocks to step on to cross this creek.  You have many options, most require some prior preparation.  Still, you always have options in life.  Unless you are a congressional representative up for re-election that is.

Your first choice for crossing is this:

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The manly way to cross

Of course this method requires rope or a homemade hemp vine found only where they grow marijuana in the national forests of California.

The next method still involves rope, but it must be fastened to something on both sides of the creek.  Once, there was a rope strung across the Little Wilson Stream in the Maine 100 Mile Wilderness, but it was too high to reach.  Very funny.

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The monkey bar method

Hiking with a friend certainly makes it easier to cross water, especially when you have to ford it.

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The buddy system. Dude on top has four eyes. No, really.

The buddy system, while loads of fun when doing chicken fights in the neighborhood pool can be especially treacherous with 40 lb. packs.  Always remember to loosen your straps and unbuckle those waist fasteners.

Sometimes, the body of water requires something more than rope and a friend.    There are places in the middle of nowhere that require a boat ride to get to your resupply.  Why do they always put it on the other shore?  And why can’t you blow the horn more than once to get picked up?

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Don’t be a sissy.

I mean, really.  Who gets off the trail to resupply at some resort?   It’s only 40 miles to the next town.

So, there you have it.  The most common ways to cross water.  Why is it in Maine that a brook is bigger than a creek and a stream is wider than a river?  Everywhere else it’s not that way.  Well, maybe in other parts of New England.  But, they were here first, so I guess they can call it what they want.  Ayuh, that’s wicked cool.

P.S. – I must be passive aggressive because the WordPress grammar checker always underlines my writing and accuses me of “passive voice”.


Planning for a Section Hike of the John Muir Trail

jmt-logo3.5x3.5-11-08-07After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced.  Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north.  We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley.  There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip.  From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.

How much will it cost?  It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food.  Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear.  You get what you pay for.  The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.

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It started with choosing a time of year to do it.  In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions.  This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high.  Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad.  Well, that’s debatable.  To some, any mosquitos are bad.  Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water.  Late June/early July worked for us.  I hear late August/early September is a good time.

Next choice was the distance to hike.  This is where you need to know what your limits are.  Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps?  I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack.  It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.

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Clothing was another choice.  What to wear?  Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing.  Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info.  Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets.  Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea.  Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack.  Test it out first.

Food was next.  Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way.  Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each.  There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples.  My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks.  It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math.  Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.

Transportation.  Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth.  It ended up working out great.  Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.

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Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful.  I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.

NEXT:  John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Day Hiking the California Peninsular Mountain Range

Spitler Peak Trail in the fall.

We are coming up on three years since we’ve started day hiking in Southern California.  What originally started as a way to get in better shape has morphed into a love of the outdoors and appreciation for an awesome creation.

It is a blessing to live in an area surrounded by “hike-able” terrain. Between San Diego, Riverside,  and San Bernardino counties,  there are hundreds of trails to choose from.  From coastal strolls to desert jaunts and a trek into the mountains, we just about have it all out here. No doubt, we live in one of the wackiest and most heavily taxed states in the union.  A couple of  reasons people tolerate the craziness out here is the abundance of outdoor activities and the ability to get away from it all.

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The Peninsular Range of mountains in southern California runs  north-south.  From the San Jacinto’s to Baja California, they provide fantastic ocean and desert views.  The trails encompassing the Laguna Mountains in the south are sub-alpine with areas of chaparral.  They are often arid, with stiff, cold desert winds in the winter and hot, dry breezes in the summer.  The famous Pacific Crest Trail winds its’ way through the Peninsular Range from Campo down by the Mexican border to Mount San Jacinto in the north.  We’ve hiked a good bit of the PCT through here, 10 miles at a time.  I’ve even thought about becoming a trail angel to the PCT thru-hikers one year.

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Northern Peninsular Range

The wildlife on the trails down here is sometimes sparse, but encounters are more frequent in the early morning hours and before dusk.  Deer are abundant as are wild turkeys and a host of reptiles.  Once the temps hit the 70’s, we occasionally run across two types of serpents – the Pacific and Diamondback rattlers.  Often sunning across or along the trail, they usually slither away, but sometimes need a little encouragement from a hiking pole.   Rarely will we find one coiled and ready to strike, but it has happened.   Woodpeckers are the most common woodland bird and the California Quail is the ground dweller that we most often see – and hear.   Red tail hawks frequently ride the afternoon drafts in their search for prey.  Huge white owls are an occasional sight in the deserts after the sun goes down.  We have yet to encounter a big cat on the trail, but we have seen a young mountain lion while driving out of San Jacinto.   Skunks, bobcats and a host of vermin travel the same trails that the humans do.

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A hawk on the hunt for vermin.

Hiking season is year round with summer hikes around 8-9,000 ft. and winter hikes at lower altitudes.  On one trip, we passed through a 106 deg desert climate and finished out at the snow-covered summit with temps in the 60’s.   Wind is usually a factor and its effects are  significant wind chills and increased dehydration.  It’s usually the reason we layer our clothing too.  Often, we are peeling layers off and putting them back on to stay comfortable.  We have been blessed with amazing weather but usually check the forecast before heading out.

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Marion Mountain Trail in the San Jacinto Wilderness

Our favorite trails are up in the San Jacinto area, the granite peaks provide majestic views, the Jeffrey pines provide ample shade for the rest breaks that you’ll need as you climb the 2-3000 ft. elevation changes, with the average hike above 6,000 ft.   If you seek solitude, hit the trail later in the day and you will run across few bipeds on your hike.  Bring a headlamp, and you will be rewarded with interesting descents through the forest as the sun drops behind adjacent peaks.  Many of the trails are comprised  of scree from decomposed granite and are slippery.  Trekking poles are  invaluable tools and have saved us from many a tumble.  Even more important, the poles are knee savers.   They will probably make  nice spears too.

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Clark Dry Lake bed near the Santa Rosa Mtns.

The easy to moderate trails in the Laguna Mountains are like casual strolls and make for a nice getaway from the suburbs.  Take a lunch and enjoy watching the waterfowl at Big Laguna Lake and be on the lookout for the foxes as they seek out the field mice in the meadows.  They’re watching you from a distance, but you can usually get a good photo with a zoom lens. This area is the best for an easy hike with mountains on one side and the desert on the other.  The colors at sunset are beautiful.

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Mount Laguna Recreation Area.

All in all, the Peninsular Range offers some of the best day hikes, all within 90 minutes of San Diego.  We are constantly on the lookout for those obscure trails less traveled and are often rewarded with solitude, awesome scenery and a decent workout.  Wherever you are my friends, just venture out and explore.


A Hike in the Snow – Spitler Peak

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Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.  That and about 18″ of snow.

Distance as hiked: 9.6 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,900ft., Top of trail-7,000ft.

Temps: 35-50deg

Difficulty: moderate to strenuous.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sbnf/recreation/outdoorlearning/recarea/?recid=26509&actid=50

As a kid living in the northeast, I loved it when it snowed.  Enough of the white stuff meant a day off to play.   After you grow up and you have to shovel or scrape the ice off the car,  it isn’t so fun anymore.   Today, we would seek out a snowy trail south of the San Jacinto Wilderness.   I’ve been in this area a couple of other times and enjoyed the solitude and varied terrain.  We brought some friends with us today and I promised them a challenging hike with views of sub-alpine valleys and vast, arid Borrego Desert.

Within the past week, we’ve had our seasonal rains in San Diego County, so we hoped for a bit of snow above 5,000 ft. Just last weekend, we were on the beach roughing it in the RV.   The typical winter day near Oceanside was mid 60’s, great for walks on the shore watching the snowy plovers nesting.  Anyhow, there aren’t many places in this great country where you can go to the beach in shorts one day and hike in a foot of snow the next.

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Our friends asked if they should bring their gaiters and I’m glad I said yes.  The trailhead had about 6 inches of powdery snow which meant the higher elevations would definitely have more.   It was strange to see snow amongst the chaparral, cactus and agave.  The wind was gusting around 10-15 mph and the temps were around 45-50.  After a couple of miles of intermittent snow and dirt, the trail gradually changed to all snow.  Eventually, the only tracks were our own and the occasional cloven hooves of a deer.  As the trail wound its way toward Spitler Peak, the northern exposure provided us with increasing snow depths approaching 18 inches.  We probably could have used snow shoes at this point, but the powdery texture made it easy to follow the footprints of the first hiker.

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The chaparral gradually changed into mostly deciduous trees covered in a blanket of snow, which was falling on us.  The trees would continue their attack on us as the occasional gust would loosen clumps   As we neared the summit, the steepest part of the trail was also the deepest and the surroundings became more like an alpine wonderland.  We looked forward to the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail where we would have lunch and some hot tea.

The 2,000 ft. of elevation gain was a challenge on any day.  Today, coupled with the snow it was slow going as the snow began to cling to our boots and gaiters.  Each step was a bit heavier, yep snowshoes would be good right about now.  We rounded the last switchback and the blue sky opened up as the trail marker for the PCT poked out through the rocks.  The desert vista to the east was beautiful as always.   Our shelter of trees gone, the wind chill made it feel like it was 30 degrees.

Lighting the small MSR Pocket Rocket stove proved to be difficult today.  The combination of wind, high altitude and low temps make these little stoves with the butane-propane a mediocre choice in these conditions.  Lesson learned-keep a small canister of fuel in my jacket to help the fuel condense.   The wind chill began to affect my dexterity too.   After 5 minutes or so, I finally got it lit, boiled our water and enjoyed a nice hot cup of Earl Grey.  It’s the little things…..

The trip down was much faster and a bit slippery.  The steady dose of sun created a frequent snow shower as we passed under the trees.  Mary put on some micro spikes and they really made a difference on the icy patches.

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As we descended through 5,500 ft, the trail became a mix of mud and slush.  I gave up my trekking poles so that my friends could have that extra “leg” on the way down.  I’ve developed some trail legs over the last few years and rarely stumble.  Besides, I’m short and don’t have far to fall.  The last couple of miles became a bit tedious as sloshed our way to the trailhead.  Fifteen minutes later, the Paradise Cafe  near the town of Anza awaited us with the promise of amazing baby-back ribs, flatiron steak and delicious burgers.  Yes, the best way to end an awesome hike is with a fantastic meal.


Bitten by a Rattler on the Pacific Crest Trail

Dazed and losing consciousness,  the shade of a scruffy manzanita tree was just ahead.  My calf had doubled in size due to the swelling.  Using my hiking poles as crutches, I would take a step and drag my leg.  Checking my cell phone for reception, my heart sank – no signal.  I tried dialing 911 anyway and the call failed.   Reaching the small patch  of shade, I crumpled on the dusty trail and took my pack off.   I fumbled for my SPOT Messenger, an emergency beacon, flipped the cover over the SOS button and pressed it.  After a minute, the light was green indicating that the message for help was transmitting.  The throbbing in my leg had ceased, replaced by a numbing sensation – similar to falling asleep on your arm.   I remember seeing the jagged peaks of the Ocotillos on the distant horizon and faded into a dream….

Living in Southern California,  I became interested in the Pacific Crest Trail or (PCT) soon after becoming an avid day hiker. The 2,600 mile trail begins at the U.S. – Mexican border near Campo, California and ends at E.C. Manning Park in British Columbia,  Canada. The southern terminus of the trail is marked with a monument, the border fence on the other side of a dirt road.  I’ve hiked sections of the PCT, usually 8-10 miles at a time.  At this rate, I would hike the entire PCT in 30 years.  The realities of life keep this thru-hike fantasy at bay.

Today, I would park almost 20 miles north of the trailhead  near the Lake Morena Campground and have a friend drop me off at the border near Campo.  He was on his way to Yuma, so it was only 12 miles out-of-the-way.  Dropping me off on the dirt road, I would walk to the border, touch the PCT marker and backtrack north.  I  waved to my friend as he pulled away on the dirt road and headed north.    Dust arose as the car faded in the distance.   How strange it must be for the Mexicans who witness the hikers that walk this desolate trail.  I’ve read that encounters with illegal immigrants are rare in the daytime down here.   At night, the human smugglers known as coyotes herd the immigrants through this area, often abandoning them at the first sign of trouble.  Human trafficking is a sad thing and I tried not to think about it.  On this fall day, the sun was out early to greet me.  The forecast had temps in the mid 80’s – not bad for the desert.  I had 4 liters of water and enough food for a couple of days.  Water is pretty scarce around here this time of year.  This would be my longest single mileage day since my trek on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  I’ve worked up to the longer mileage and was fit enough to give it a go.   The sky was clear with a few wispy cirrus clouds.   Taking out my little camera, I had to get a shot of the beginning of this famous trail.

Southern Terminus of the PCT

It was so quiet out here because the sand and chaparral absorb most of the sound.  The occasional chatter of a Gambel’s Quail would break the silence.  Using my map, I would pick my way around fences, up dirt roads and past some ranches.  Passing through the little town of Campo, I would see a post office and a small store.  Walking across Hwy 94, I saw cars in the distance, the blacktop making them seem like a mirage.

Crossing some railroad tracks and an old jeep road, I was making good time.  Finding shade in the cleft of a boulder, I took a break.  The screech of a red-tail hawk on the hunt pierced the tranquility.  It was catching a morning updraft, conserving energy.   The trail was relatively easy to follow and the elevation was around 2,800-3000 ft.  Checking my GPS, it indicated my average speed was 2.8 mph.  I was on track to make it to my car by sundown.  While prepared to hike in the dark, it’s not something that I enjoy doing.   Around the 8 mile mark, I made the crest of a ridge and noticed a descent into a canyon, followed by a  300-400 ft climb.  I crossed another jeep road with a gate.  Time for another snack, but I would keep moving.  While unwrapping my snack bar, I remember looking up in time to avoid tripping over a rock.  The Pacific Rattler struck without warning.    I remember yelling and lunging forward, the adrenaline surging  through my body.  I must have run another 30-40 feet before stopping.  Looking back, the snake was still coiled under the rock near the trail.  The pain in my calf jolted me back into reality.  I dropped my poles and unfastened the nylon gaiter on my right leg.  Two small holes, one with blood on my calf.   The serpent had bitten me through the gaiter.  My initial reaction was one of panic.   Within a few minutes, the area around the bite burned like fire and the skin turned red and was swollen.  I got farther away from the snake and retrieved my cell phone to call for help.  No signal!   I was in a canyon with no reception.  At this point, I wasn’t worried about dying.  I knew that most rattlesnake bites were not fatal and that it was important to calm down so that I could make good decisions.   I had not seen one person since the little hamlet of Campo, so I prayed to my God for calm and asked Him to get me out of here.

Looking at my map, I was 9 miles into my 20 mile hike.  The campground was 10 miles to the north with a  1,200 foot climb.  Campo was 8 miles to the south.   Not knowing how the snake bite would affect me, I decided to head back south and prayed for a phone signal.  I made a detour around the wretched snake and  began to feel a bit lethargic and dizzy.  Sweat was dripping as my body reacted to the situation.  I drank more water and tried to stay calm.  Up ahead near the ridge, I noticed some scrubby trees and hoped for some shade.  My leg was swelling noticeably and I knew to leave my shoes on.  I made it to some manzanitas and dropped my pack.

Still no signal.  I knew what had to be done.  Six months earlier, I had purchased a GPS device that serves as an emergency beacon and allows for me to be tracked by family members on a website.  At the start of my hike, I transmitted the “OK” signal to my wife which sends an email and text to her cell phone with my location.  Now, I fumbled for the device and knew that I had to signal for help.  I flipped off the safety cover and pressed the SOS button.  After a minute, it blinked green indicating that it was transmitting.  Hopefully, help would be here within the hour.  Looking around, I noticed the tranquility and beauty of the land.  The Ocotillos mountain range was in the distance.  The last thing I remember was a slight buzz in my ears.

I remember having strange dreams.  In  one of my dreams, I was dressed up in a fat bunny suit and jumping through the neighbor’s yards.   I still don’t understand that dream.   It was bright when I woke up.  In a strange room, the beep, beep of the monitor and I.V. in my arm left no doubt where I was.  A  nurse came in and told me that it took three vials of antivenom to treat me.  My leg would be fine, albeit sore for a long time.

Later, I would be told that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department  received the call from the company that monitors the SPOT GPS messenger.  The police chopper was on the scene within 55 minutes.  Working with the Border Patrol, they would make their way up a jeep road and haul me out on a 4 wheeler with a gurney.  A helicopter would land on Hwy 94 and take me to the hospital in El Cajon, 35 miles away.

Friends, fellow bloggers – at this point I must tell you that this story is a work of FICTION.  This didn’t really happen to me.  Have I seen rattlers on the trail?  Yes, many.  Normally, the rattlers are not aggressive and actually prefer to stay away from humans.  Most rattlesnake bite victims  are oblivious to the snake until they step on it or surprise it on the trail.  I can only tell you that if you do hike alone, ensure that someone knows where you are and take a cell phone.  Unfortunately, if you hike in remote areas, a cellular signal is not guaranteed.  For peace of mind,  I picked up an emergency beacon and  hope to never use it.  Be prepared for the chance rattler encounter and have a plan.   If you do stumble on one, freeze and allow it to retreat.  If it coils, slowly back  away and give it a wide berth.  The most common rattlers in Southern California are the Pacific and Diamondback.  In my experience, the Pacific Rattlers tend to be more defensive and will coil when threatened.  They have the ability to strike out at 40% of their length.  A coiled 6 foot rattler can lunge over 2.5 ft!   Most of my encounters have been in the afternoon.   I actually came within two feet of a coiled Pacific Rattler this past summer;  but for the grace of God was not bitten.   Enjoy your hike and be alert!

Trekking poles are also great because they can put some distance between you and a snake.  I highly recommend these made by Kelty: Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

If you insist on walking through rattlesnake infested brush, at least consider these: Rattler Scaletech Snake Protection Gaiters (Green)

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle


Big Laguna Trail – PCT Round Robin

Big Laguna Lake

Today, we took some friends to one of our favorite San Diego County hiking areas – Laguna Mtn Recreation Area.  Located in the Cleveland National Forest, it is a mix of amazing desert views and alpine forests, all within a day hike.  We would start around mile marker 25.5 on the Sunrise Hwy, where the Big Laguna Trail crosses the road on the way to the PCT.  The Pacific Crest Trail passes through this area and offers a diverse display of scenery and color.  We planned on hiking the PCT to Penny Pines, cross over to the Big Laguna Trail and loop around the lake to end up near the starting point.  Should be under 10 miles, not bad for a good day hike.

The gently rolling hills and occasional escarpment offer fairly easy hiking.  The temps vary greatly here, but it was in the high 70’s today as the warm currents came up from the desert.  We would take the “BLT” as the local trail maintainers affectionately call it to the PCT and head north.  Not long after we hit the 2,600 mile long trail, we started seeing many runners.  It’s rare to find trail runners out here, but today we would see over 150, all heading south.  It was the annual PCT 50 mile run and we were smack dab near the turn around point.  Over the next couple of hours we would kindly step off the trail for the runners as they came by.  About half were walking, but I am amazed that people run 50 miles  anywhere, much less on a rocky trail.

A PCT 50 mile runner.

We came to Foster Point on the PCT which offers excellent views to the east and north.  On clear winter days, you can see for over 75 miles to Mt. San Jacinto.  It was neat to have lunch with our friends near a cliff that plummets to a canyon far below.  Rounding a bend, a runner warned us about a rattler 50 ft ahead.  I borrowed Mary’s hiking pole and there he was, a young Pacific Ratter nosing his way out on the trail.  With runners coming through here every few minutes, I gently coaxed him back into the bushes with the pole  At one point, he warned me with his shaker but backed off and retreated into the scrub.  In my pre hiking days, I would have gladly terminated this serpent.  Now, I realize part of being a good steward is to leave the wildlife alone.  We continued up the PCT and proceeded into an area that was half scrub, half forest.  The single track trail was well maintained but dusty.  This section of the trail had a steep hill to the left and canyon to the right.  With little to no breeze, we made our way up to Penny Pines parking area where the PCT breaks off and the Noble Canyon Trail intersects with the Big Laguna Trail.  This must have been an aid station for the race as they were finished tearing it down.  After another quick break to cool down, we crossed Sunrise Hwy and headed into a sun-baked area that had burned long ago.  Crossing through a cattle gate, I began to look for the cows but none were to be found.  Soon, the meadow came into view and it felt like a scene from the old movie classic “The Wizard of Oz” as they passed out of the haunted forest.  At this point, I could have used a nap.

Big Laguna Meadow

The trail meandered on the edge of the meadow and through the forest with large pines that survived the fires.  Some newer pines were about 10-15 years old.   There was a vernal pond at the north end of the meadow; it would probably be dry by the end of summer.  Across the meadow, we could see the Sunset Trail, a decent trail that runs along the western ridge of the meadow, with good views of the Laguna area.  Big Laguna Lake varies in size and has probably peaked this time of year.

Big Laguna Meadow & Lake

We took a wrong turn at the south end of the lake.  I’m entitled to one per hike ya know.  After a few minutes on the boggy shores of the lake, we headed east toward our final legs of the BLT.  We would cross more meadows, a few streams and enter another forest which seemed to go on forever.  My GPS showed us farther south than I had wanted to be, but eventually the trail turned north, increased in elevation a few hundred feet and crossed Los Huecos Rd.  The final leg was a hot, dusty jaunt over an old fire road, onto an almost overgrown path with a welcomed trail marker for the BLT to the PCT.

The map I was using from the Laguna Mtn Recreation Area website did not seem to scale, but the lesson here was to bring better topos.  All in all the 10.5 mile trek was confirmation of the diversity of terrain around here.  Deserts, alpine, meadows, lakes – a neat area to hike.  During the week, I imagine that you would have it all to yourself.    Enjoy life friends – “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” Ps 118:24

The crew at Foster Point.