Day 23 – “I’ll Raise…”

Buckthorn Camp to Trail Camp
1.4 Mile Detour, Mile 394 – Mile 420.6

Buckthorn Creek in morning

Sometimes when you are playing poker and you find yourself in a bad spot, the only thing to do is raise the bet. So too with hiking I suppose.

Trail flowers

My plan for the day was to finish the endangered species detour and knock out a 10×10 which would land me at a picnic area on Highway 2. I was betting that I’d be able to take a break and get the cellular coverage I lacked last night.

Pleasant but no views

The morning walk through Pleasant View Ridge was, um, pleasant enough but I’m not sure where they were hiding those views. I confined myself to small scale spectacles.

Red eruptions through the pine straw

The day was overcast but I arrived at the picnic area in high spirits only to be disappointed. I was able to dump some trash (never pass up a trash can) but posting was a no go. Nothing to do but keep going.

Entering the fours

The trail entered a fire damaged area of low, labyrinthine hills. The walking became quite tedious and monotonous as the trail snaked through the scrub. I’m pretty sure I walked every point of the compass disconsolate and unable to perceive any progress. I did run across a guy who was out doing a 5 day hiking fast, limiting himself to only water and electrolytes. Um, seems like a spectacularly bad idea to me.

What’s better than 10×10?

To break out of my funk, I raised the stakes setting myself the goal of 20×2. Unbeknownst to me, the last part of the 20 included about 2000 feet of elevation gain but by that point I was determined.

Approaching the promised land

The payoff for my achievement was a sweeping view and 3 bars on my phone. I removed my shoes and socks and stretched out on a large rock for an extended break. I then set my sights on the Mill Creek Fire Station another 6 miles ahead as a good stopping spot. They did have a spigot with cold water but camping there would have been under power lines, next to a noisy highway, and no phone service.

Sunset camp

Time to reraise! Though ready to stop, I girded myself for another 2.5 miles of climbing in hopes the elevation would deliver silence , solitude, and service. Ring the bell, we have a winner! I found a terrific spot that gave me all three with a colorful sunset thrown in to sweeten the pot. I wasn’t planning on doing 28 miles today but I am glad I raised.

Bonus sunset

Day 22 – All Hail Baden-Powell

May 30
Wrightwood to Buckhorn Camp
Mile 369.3 – Mile 390.2 + 3.3 Mile Endangered Species Detour

Approaching Mt Baden-Powell

I rang the bell at the Wrightwood post office promptly at 7am and true to their word, a mail clerk was there to help me claim my box. A quick stop at the Cinnamon Bakery for one of their delicious cinnamon rolls (they run out everyday) and I was ready to hitch back to the trail.

I turned left

After about 10 minutes, a guy named Chad Keel rolled over from the service station and offered me a ride even though he wasn’t headed my direction. Chad is a minimalist survival instructor who recently returned from filming an episode of Naked and Afraid. If you don’t know the show, basically two strangers are left out in the wilderness with next to nothing save their will and ability to survive 21 days. Chad’s episode took place on an island off Montserrat and will air this season. How cool is that? Thank you Chad, I can’t wait to see your show!

Summit plaque of Lord Baden-Powell

The goal this morning was to summit Mt Baden-Powell, named for the founder of the Boy Scouts. It does not take much to draw a line from his creation to the fact of me hiking his mountain. My time in scouting taught me to love what I’m out doing now.

1500 year old ‘Wally Waldron’ tree on the summit ridge

The trail rises almost 3000 feet over the course of 4 miles reminding me of the Seattle area standard training hike, Mt Si. Lots of switchbacks, steeper and more exposed than Mt Si, the trail eventually crests the summit ridge where stands the Wally Waldron Tree estimated to be 1500 years old. I reached the 9407 foot summit around 11:30, signed the register, and snapped a few triumphant photos.

All hail!
Summit of Mt Baden-Powell
Windswept summit

Descending a couple thousand feet and another ten miles brought me to Little Jimmy Spring. Clear, cold, beautiful water just pouring out the side of a hill. It was the best water yet on the PCT but no sign of Jimmy.

Angeles Crest Highway 2

All day, the trail loosely followed the path of the Angeles Crest Highway 2, a twisty mountain road tailor made for motorcycles if ever there was. Most times the highway would appear far below but the trail did go down to touch several trailhead parking lots only to rise back again.

Mountain meadow

At mile 390.2 the PCT is closed to protect an endangered species of frog. There is a long detour of almost 19 miles or a short detour of just under 5 that both rejoin the trail at mile 394. Though it involved walking Highway 2 for a couple miles, I of course opted for short. After the Mountain Fire Alternate, I am all about making miles on the PCT and will forgo the extracurriculars for the time being unless of course someone wants to lend me a motorcycle.

Day 21 – All Wrightwood

Wrightwood, CA
Mile 369.3

It’s Catweazle!

Much like Idyllwild, Wrightwood was crawling with scores of hikers these past two days. It may be due to the holiday post office closing creating a minor backup but favorites old and new made appearances. FlowerMan and CatWeazle (so named due to his likeness to an eponymous British TV series), Neon, Gulliver, Smeagol ( a woman from France who apparently beat a fish to death behind a rock?!), Uhuh, Socrates, RootinTootin (you guess) and many others were there.

The lovely Cedar Inn of Wrightwood, CA

All of which to say is that it  has become pretty lame to introduce myself as John from Seattle. “Dude, you gotta get a trail name, John is way too hard to remember” admonished Lego back at McDonalds. Lots of folks have been calling me some form of Jack because of the hat and my sister suggested Newton, he of the apple on the noggin legend. The pinecone that beaned me was the size of a pineapple… So, hopefully, without the need of further hints from above, I accepted the name given me by the trail- AppleJack.


The fact that applejack is a pre-prohibition liquor made by cold distillation of apples (I already have a trailname  cocktail devised in my head) and it happens to be the main ingredient in a drink called a Jersey Girl (all roads lead to Springsteen) further seals the deal. I went about town today proclaiming myself to be AppleJack. One note please: Let’s all together forget that Applejack was also a star character on the cartoon hit show My Little Pony.

Guacamole fish burger

It seems like the only other thing I did today was eat, anything and everything. I can’t ever remember being able to eat this much and never feel full.

Memorial Day service in Wrightwood
Remembering the fallen and missing

Being in a small town on Memorial Day was a poignant reminder of the sons and daughters who did not come back home. There was a small gathering around midday and I spoke with veterans and family members about their stories.  I was touched by the simple humility of their service to our country and cannot imagine the powerless agony of having your child put in harm’s way.

Me and my Snoofer

My thoughts were colored too by the happy fact of my daughter Kayla’s 26th birthday today. Kayla, your intellect, kindness,  empathy, and willingness to help others make me proud to be your dad. Yours is a bright light shining in this world and I love you. Happy Birthday Kayla Bear!

Besides eating, I spent most of the day off my confused feet. “Wait, no walking today?”. I caught up with friends and family and did the mundane work required by the real world, paying bills etc. I am sure rest does a body good and all but I feel like it’s been forever and I’m ready to get back out there. Onward!

Day 20 – Over The Hill

High Hill Camp to Wrightwood
Mile 351.9 – Mile 369.3

Chillin in the sunshine yesterday

Camping higher in the hills makes the nights just a bit colder but with the added bonus of no morning dew. Last night’s camp proved a popular spot with several groups wedging into the available flat spots. I think folks realized that at 5200 feet, we were only halfway through the big, dry climb out of Cajon Pass. After McDonalds, the next water was a whopping 22 miles away with ~5000 feet of elevation gain in between.

Up before the sun

Marshaling my limited water, I figured I would consume less walking in the cool morning. Up before the sun, I was walking by 5:50, a sure fire way to bag another 10×10. Up and up the well graded trail to over 8500 feet, there were many sights to distract from the climb.

Up towards Mt San Antonio

The early light lit Mt San Antonio, the same peak I saw drizzled with remaining snow two mornings ago at the Mojave Dam. With daylight in full swing, photo stops became less frequent and I motored up the hill just a bit parched but getting close to Guffy Campground.

The view from 8500 feet
Another day, another National Forest

I was all set to find the elusive spring there when lucky me, a car camper had left an unopened gallon of Arrowhead water. A pit toilet, garbage can, and clean water is like a hiker trifecta and I danced down the trail thanking my lucky stars.
At that point it was only 6 miles to Highway 2 and a short hitch down to Wrightwood. This horse smelled like a barn… no wait, this horse smelled the barn (actually both are true) and I had finished my miles by 12:30. The last part of the trail today meandered through the Mountain High Ski Area.  There were just a few patches of snow left hiding in the shadows but I used one to scour the crusted salt from my hat and leave a little inside for a highly pleasurable bit of cooling.

Mountain High Ski Area
One for the brochures

The hitch was easy and I was soon ensconced in front of the local supermarket taking down 64 ounces of Gatorade without blinking. There were many hikers lurking about trying to figure out accommodations for the night. I had already booked my room so I wandered over to check in at the Cedar Inn. Terry, the caretaker, was a little leery about just one hiker in the room but I eventually won her over. There must be some bad history of room stacking where a bunch of hikers pile into the same room.

Makeshift hiker laundry

All of Wrightwood is on septic systems so there are no laundromats in town. No problem, I know how to do bucket laundry and will go so far as to say my clothes are cleaner. Showered and psyched about my day off tomorrow I’m off to find dinner soon.

Mt Baden Powell awaits Tuesday

Day 19 – Turn And Face The Strange

Trail Camp to High Hill Camp
Mile 333.8 – Mile 351.9

Good morning sunshine

I had a pleasant stroll this morning down to the McDonald’s at Cajon Pass. What?! There are three strange and remarkable things about that first statement. Let’s start with ‘pleasant stroll’.

Hummin’ and a cracklin’

It could be that ridding myself of the two upstarts put everyone in a better mood. Or it could have been those two Vitamin I’s (ibuprofen) I popped at about 2am to soothe my aches. In any case, I was surprised and delighted about how well my feet felt as I broke camp. Everything was just a bit wet with morning dew but didn’t take long to dry using the sun’s first rays. In high spirits,  I followed the trail along some power lines that crackled and popped as if competing with the crickets gossiping in the chaparral.

Now that’s a trail sign

‘Down to Cajon Pass’ should not have surprised me but in car centric thinking, you drive up and over passes. I suppose it is called the Pacific Crest Trail so at least when we are talking about highway passes, Interstate 15 in this case, I should be thinking down.

Hiker hunger heaven

‘McDonalds’ ?!? It has been many a roundup since this cowpoke darkened the door of the golden arches. People said the trail would change me and here now is proof. I arrived while breakfast was still being served and had a large OJ, 3 pancakes, double hash browns, and an English muffin. I just had time to scoot over to the gas station mini-mart for a 32oz Gatorade before returning for the lunch menu, topping off my caloric orgy with a Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Hunger will indeed change a person.

Round 1

There was quite a group of hikers (hard to miss em) mixed in with the throngs of weekend road trippers. Lego (so named for his practice of carrying his son’s LegoMan character and posting trail pics on Instagram that include the small hero @pcthiker17) hurtled by me on the way this morning not so much for the food I think but because he was out of smokes. Neon (he of the ever present mirrored sunglasses) was there too but the master of ceremonies was a mobile trail angel named Legend.
Legend hiked the trail in 2013 and has outfitted his camper truck to be the PCT Support Wagon. He will spend a week or two in one strategic place helping hikers with whatever before pulling up stakes and relocating further up the trail.

The Gunslinger

Legend admired my leather hat since he also sports one and we traded hat stories. I’m almost sure my trail name is going to come from pine cone bombing story everyone seems to like. Legend suggested a few that still were not quite right. I expect I will see him again in Tehachapi.

The light at the end of the culvert

What goes down must go back up. After farewells, my stomach lurching and gurgling, uncertain of its new cargo, I wandered back into the barren and waterless hills that form the western buttress of Cajon Pass. Crossing over and under active railroad tracks I eventually escaped the immediate environs of Cajon Pass and also emerged from my food coma.

Up Swarthout Canyon

Then it was up Swarthout Canyon to reach some wide sweeping vistas. Peering through the befouled smoggy air to the south (I think coming from Riverside) I could all the way back to San Jacinto. More immediately I could see my whole day’s progress at a glance.

All in a day’s work. Cajon Pass overlook

With only 18 miles to go tomorrow I was able to stop early today and relax at my hilltop camp. Hummingbirds have been whizzing right above my tent hoping that maybe the bright orange clips mean nectar. Alas not.

Day 18 – Score Update: Toenails 8, PCT 2

Mojave Dam Overlook to Trail Camp
Mile 312.7 – Mile 333.8

Sadly I must report that we have lost two of our own to the trail. Both had been muttering something about mutiny almost from the start and they finally decided to jump ship. Left little toenail slipped away quietly yesterday figuring Deep Creek Hot Springs was a fine place to ditch the team. Right little toenail took more of a scorched earth approach to ensure his absence would be felt. They will be missed.

Purple dawn over Mojave River Forks Dam

Dawn broke today pink and purple on the high mountains north with their shoulders wrapped in white cotton. More proficient at breaking camp, I was soon picking my way down to the dam as the day lightened.

Ware the sinker logs

The last crossing of Deep Creek was an early morning test of dexterity for which if you prove worthy, you win dry feet. Apparently worthy and more than a little thankful, I started in on a piece of the trail that can be very hot and dry.

Morning trail

Thankfully for me, the weather today was cool even if the wind was gusty and strong. I had wondered if my hat was a wee bit too small but today proved otherwise. On some of the exposed ridges I found myself tugging my hat down tight and leaning into the wind to progress. I hesitate to say it but it hasn’t been blown off yet.

Otherworldly infestation. Is there a botanist in the house?

I was feeling sluggish and my pace seemed to be slowing so what else? Time for some Bruce! I went from lethargic to exultant pounding my trekking poles down in time to the music with a stupid grin on my face. To see me would have been to say “I’ll have whatever he’s having!” As a result I managed to salvage my third 10×10 all thanks to the transportive power of music. Thank you Brother Bruce!

Mighty earthen works of Cedar Springs Dam

After a morning in the hills just south of Hesperia, CA, the PCT pops over those hills to reveal Silverwood Lake. It’s a man made reservoir and was created by the construction of the impressive earthworks of Cedar Springs Dam. Given the start of Memorial Day weekend, the lake and adjoining campground were  strangely deserted save for my lunch companions.

Wind whipped Silverwood Lake panorama
Lunch guests today

While stopped for lunch, I did some quick mental math about my resupply quandary. I figured I would have to walk 16 of the next 22 hours to make closing time at the post office. Have I mentioned my feet hurt? In the end there was no decision. Foot off the gas, my plan is to coast into Wrightwood Sunday and take Monday off. There’s no reason to hurry to the Sierras quite yet as much of trail there remains buried in snow. More on that topic in the coming weeks.

Day 17 – Me and My Shadow

Boulder Hill Camp to Mojave Dam Overlook
Mile 288.1 – Mile 312.7

My constant companion cuts a dashing figure

I spent this morning sewn to my shadow stretched out directly in front of me as I descended Holcomb Valley. Try as I might I could never quite catch up and my way was slowed by many fallen trees across the trail. As I was throwing my leg over one, I happened to catch the side of my kneecap on a protruding knot. Who needs coffee when white hot pain works even better?

First bridge of PCT at Deep Creek

Ten miles in and I arrived at Deep Creek Bridge and a relaxing break beneath its high span. I did not know it at the time but the rest of my day would be spent winding down and along the steep sided walls of the creek’s gorge.

Atmospheric encouragement to keep on trekking
Mid afternoon milestone

At some point early in the afternoon my shadow decided to let me lead. We wound our away in and out of gullies under a hot sun, iPod firmly in place, until in the distance appeared our destination.

Approaching Deep Creek Hot Springs
Hot pool and cold creek

Deep Creek Hot Springs is tucked within a widening of the canyon walls. A Shangri La of sorts, it seems to be a popular place though no overnight camping is allowed. I did not think hot springs sounded particularly appealing after my hot hike, but I changed my tune quickly. The springs pool was around 101 and the creek water refreshingly cool but not icy. Back and forth I went, my body a big fan of the unexpected spa treatment. I stayed long enough to make dinner before setting off again.

Sunset over Mojave River Forks Dam

Tent sites are scarce to nonexistent along a trail that traverses steep walls so I was all but forced to keep going. I managed to escape the gorge right at sunset and set up camp on a hill overlooking the Mohave River Forks Dam. I dropped down almost 3000 feet today and the night is noticeably warmer as a result.
Unfortunately I am now speeding to an almost certain time out due to Memorial Day weekend. I’m still almost 60 miles from my next resupply in Wrightwood and if I don’t get there by 11am Saturday, I will have to wait until 8am Tuesday for the post office to reopen. I’m not sure yet what I will do but I am amused at what stresses thru hikers. I can’t lose and It’s all good either way.