Thursday, May 31, 2012

Day 40: Oak Creek to Highway 58 (Tehachapi Pass)

A traveling flea circus set up shop in and around our tent, stealthily moving in as we slept. A large, brown spider crept up to greet me the moment I woke. Outside, an army of ants paraded back and forth on our front porch. A centipede shuffled along on the side of the tarp, while a large, brown scorpion like creature burrowed underneath it. An earwig camouflaged itself against the black fabric of the tent, and a small inchworm crept along the gray fabric on top. All of our newfound friends were reluctant to leave: the spider scurried back underneath the tent after I evicted him.

Today's route took us over golden brown grassy hills scattered with yellow mustard, bright orange poppies, pink flowering beavertail cactus, a prodigious number of cowpies, and windmills.  Lots of windmills. 

We had not hiked far before I heard a familiar noise.  A large Mojave green rattlesnake rattled furiously next to the trail, coiled and ready to strike.  Locals claim they are the most agressive rattlesnakes.  Mojave greens do not rattle a quick warning and then slither away.  Mojave greens hold their ground, rattling until their would-be victim either walks into striking distance or wisely walks away.  Uninterested in learning the effects of rattlesnake venom firsthand, I chose to walk away, although not before snapping this picture.  (Picture quality is marginal due to the distance from which I had to take the photo.)

Continuing down the trail, the constant whirring and drone of the windmills soon replaced the sound of the rattlesnake in my ear. 

We eventually reached the road with skin intact.  My father was waiting at the trailhead to drive us in to Tehachapi to resupply.  We'll be resting and refueling tomorrow (another "zero day") before heading back to the trail for the next section.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Day 39: Windmill Farm to Oak Creek

Somehow we managed to pack up our gear without anything blowing away in the wind. The wind was relentless, pushing us back down the climb and pulling our packs backward, away from our bodies, as we strained to move forward.

Deep in the recesses of Tylerhorse Canyon, we finally found relief from the wind. But the air was hot and stuffy. Climbing out of the canyon, we were relieved to feel the wind again, now a gentle breeze rather than the high speed winds that had buffeted us down by the wind farm.

We stopped for lunch above Gamble Canyon, enjoying the last whisper of a cool breeze. The next few miles of trail climbed through a burn area, hot, exposed, and shadeless, without a breath of wind to provide relief from the sweltering heat. We guzzled water, momentarily forgetting that our limited supplies would have to last until Oak Creek, still miles away.

Reaching the top of the climb, we soon spotted a welcome wooden sign: "PCT Hikers -- Welcome to Tehachapi, Have a Drink! Compliments, Daniel and Larry."  Next to the sign were several stacked cases of water! We removed two bottles and were grateful for the extra drink.

The top of the ridge was beautiful, with pine trees and purple lupine dotting the sandy landscape. But we soon descended into another burn area, climbing over and around downed trees that crisscrossed the trail. The burn area was barren and desolate, like the surface of the moon. Charred black and white sticks poked out of the sandy soil, with little live vegetation to brighten the landscape.

Looking off into the distance, windmills dominated the horizon as far as the eye could see. And as we neared the windmill farm, the wind returned. No longer a gentle cooling breeze, with every step we fought the power of a gale force wind. Heads down, we pushed into the wind. When the wind hit us from the side, we leaned into it, bracing ourselves, hoping to stay on the trail. But, like a pair of wobbly toddlers just discovering our legs, we were frequently pushed aside.

Just when we were beginning to despair that we might never leave the wind buffeted ridge, the trail finally dropped into the Oak Creek Canyon. Once a beautiful, grassy oak lined creek, the area around the creek is now littered with piles of horse manure covering almost every square inch of ground. Nevertheless, we were grateful to find a sheltered campsite under the oak trees where we could stop for the night.  We were soon joined by Dog, a section hiker who, when he reaches Kennedy Meadows at the end of this section, will have completed the entire PCT!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 38: Highway 138 to Windmill Farm

We started our day by hiking to school: the trail passes right in front of Neenach Elementary School. Of course the school closed in 2008, but I didn't mention that to Sierra, who hurried past!

Just beyond the school the trail climbed to the California Aquaduct, following its large expanse of blue water downstream before turning to follow the dark, enclosed pipe that holds the Los Angeles Aqueduct. As we walked alongside and sometimes on top of the great enclosed pipe, I considered the irony: on this 16.5 mile "waterless" section of the PCT, we are almost constantly within a few feet of millions of gallons of drinking water (albeit inaccessible).

Our hike took us past a large Joshua tree forest, and the air filled with the songs of the many birds nested in and around the trees. We loved the Joshua trees, with their green tips poking up and out in every direction like a young boy's tousled hair after a long, sweaty nap. But eventually the trees grew more sparse, with large sandy expanses between them dotted with sage, rabbit brush, and other hardy desert varieties.

The afternoon sizzled, heat radiating from the light gray cement that now covered the Aqueduct and from our pale, sandy path. A hot, dry breeze provided our only relief, and I could feel it slowly siphoning every last drop of moisture from my skin.

As we approached the dry bed of Cottonwood Creek we began to see enormous white windmills dotting the landscape. All of them were silent and still despite a strong, persistent wind, as the windmill farm is not yet operational. Climbing up from the creek, gnarled juniper trees began to replace the Joshua trees of the lower desert. We settled underneath a grove of junipers with large blue berries to make a somewhat sheltered camp.

The night was full of sounds. We heard the frantic yips of the coyotes circling their prey, the creaks of the giant windmill straining against the wind, the rustling and flapping of our tent, and the lowing of the cattle grazing nearby. Eventually we heard the sound of silence, and drifted off to sleep.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Day 37: Sawmill Campground to Highway 138

A baby black widow set up housekeeping in our tent last night. I woke to find her pale body hanging in the doorway of our tent, the distinctive hourglass shape already etched on the underside of her body clearly visible from my sleeping bag. Scooping her up on a spare Data Book page, I relocated her outside to make a new home.

Shortly after we started hiking, we passed the 500 mile marker, a 500 formed with small rocks. Actually, we passed three of 500 mile markers, the precise location of the 500 mile point apparently being a matter of some uncertainty. Of course, with the additional 13 miles we hiked on the official frog reroute these markers actually signified 513 miles for us, our personal 500 milestone passing without marker or ceremony yesterday.

We spent much of our morning pushing through dense thickets of brush that grew over the trail. Sharp branches and spines scraped across our packs, arms, legs, and occasionally even our faces, gouging our sleeping pads and removing small pieces of skin.

By midday the trail opened up to grassy hillsides scattered with large, stately oaks. We stopped for lunch underneath an oak with a trunk too thick to encircle even with two pairs of arms. A broken limb, with a circumference larger than that of most tree trunks, provided comfortable seats.

After lunch we dropped into Pine Canyon, where we met Grandpa's Traveling Oasis. Armed with cold drinks and frozen drinks we continued down the hot and dusty trail. A large sign commanded "Stay on Trail! PCT Adjacent to Hunt Club!". Thankfully the dates on the sign indicated that PCT hikers are not currently in season (the club operates from September through April). Nevertheless, we moved quickly when we heard gunfire in the canyon below.

We reached Highway 138 just in time for dinner, and were whisked away for a delicious and filling dinner at the Olive Garden. We will return to the trail tomorrow, rested and refueled.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 36: San Francisquito Canyon to Sawmill Campground

The ranger station loudspeaker crackled to life at seven in the morning. Already packing up, we left a few minutes later, hiking the short distance back up the road to the trail.

The day warmed up quickly, with only an occasional cooling breeze to carry with it our memory of last night's cold weather. Climbing up the ridge we passed scrub oak, manzanita, chemise, yucca, and a handful of other plants that thrive in the sandy desert soil. Damper ravines held live oak trees, thick poison oak, and colorful wildflowers. Equally colorful butterflies flittered among the flowering shrubs. Many of the butterflies were bright and showy, with deep orange wings, but one was a soft, delicate gray, with only a bright orange outline on the bottom of its wings and a deep blue outline around its small body to catch your eye.

We briefly dropped into Elizabeth Lake Canyon, where my parents provided delicious cold drinks, before climbing the next hot, dry ridge. But after the initial climb, the remainder of the hike was not as miserable as the elevation profile had suggested it might be. Instead of meandering up and down over a series of separate, steep ridges, the trail followed a series of ascending ridgelines, staying high rather than descending in between each ridge.

Reaching a grove of oak trees, we stopped to enjoy the shade. With several low hanging branches, the trees proved good for climbing as well. Most of the trees were randomly scattered, but several groups of trees were arranged in perfect circles, like Daisy's mythical fairy rings in Wilson Rawls's Summer of the Monkeys.

The ridgelines were mostly exposed, but the trail also dipped below the ridge into shaded mixed forests with several varieties of oak, pine, and fir. Between the trees, we caught glimpses of the desert below and the windmill farm in the distant hills, a sign of blustery days to come.

The high desert hills here do not have a year round water source. We passed several dry stream beds, but no water. Late in the afternoon, we reached a grassy ridgetop where several other PCT hikers were already setting up camp. Nearby was a large concrete water tank used for firefighting, although unlocked and available for drinking. After someone left the cover off one year, hikers discovered dead rodents floating in the water. Thankfully, this year there was nothing more disturbing than wind blown plant material floating on the surface of the water.

We reached our own grassy camp near Sawmill Campground a short time later and settled in near Shutterbug and Anna (later named "Northstar"), who we met yesterday. Long after Hiker Midnight passed, I looked out of the tent to see the night sky. A sea of bright stars swam in the dark, moonless sky, collectively illuminating our camp with enough power to hike by. I located the Big Dipper, Orion, and other familiar constellations, and looked with wonder at the bright, creamy expanse of the Milky Way. Reluctantly I crawled back inside my down cocoon and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 35: Agua Dulce Hills to San Francisquito Canyon

The rain drizzled on our tent periodically throughout the night, but the ground was dry when we woke. Scattered clouds still hung in the sky, making the morning crisp and cool. Although the guidebook warned that the hike out of Agua Dulce is "dreadfully hot," we left camp wearing long sleeves.

The long sleeves stayed on for most of the day. After lunch I wished I also wore long pants, as we pushed our way through countless thickets of poison oak that had overgrown the trail. Contact with the thick bushes of poison oak was unavoidable, and an itchy rash is almost sure to follow.

Rounding a corner an arm bone and pink flamingo beckoned us to enter the Anderson's Oasis, a soda and water cache nestled in the shade of a grove of oak trees. Decorated in a Addam's Family meets Gilligan's Island theme, a three foot Frankenstein doll and a hanging skeleton guard the cooler of sodas. A teddy bear hung from a tree limb above the cache, along with inflatable palm trees, a Tiki doll, a Dora the Explorer, and a few spare bones. A circle of chairs provided a place for hikers to sit down and relax as they enjoyed their cold drinks.

Despite the hanging thermometer reminding us of the coolness of the day, none of the hikers we met wanted to pass by the cache. Instead, we each donned another warm layer and sat for a few minutes, enjoying the Anderson's hospitality, the company of the other hikers, and yes, the icy cold drinks.  We sipped cold drinks and chatted with a group of hikers, including our new friends Shutterbug and Anna (later named Northstar), who we had met earlier that morning.

It was early evening when we reached the road, and we did not see any camping near the trail. Reluctant to hike on much farther, we joined several other hikers camping at the ranger station just down the road. With soft, pine needle covered ground, picnic tables, and running water, the ranger station offered everything we needed for another comfortable night on the trail.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Day 34: Acton KOA to Agua Dulce Hills

We woke to the persistent soft tapping of a fine, light mist falling against our tent. Outside, dreary gray clouds filled the sky.

The section of trail between Acton and Agua Dulce is reputed to be one of the hottest, the start of the long, hot dry hike through the Mojave Desert. But with clouds covering most of the sky, we caught glimpses of the sun only occasionally and stayed cool all morning.

In late morning we reached the Vasquez Rocks, beautiful red sandstone rock formations. Occasional rays of sun poked out from behind the clouds to light up the rocks with a soft golden hue. And as we hiked past, brown wooden signs helped us identify a few more of the desert plants whose names had, thus far, eluded us.  As we approached Agua Dulce, a hiker named iPod joined us, and the three of us followed the trail into town together.

Most hikers visit the Saufley's Hiker Heaven when in Agua Dulce. The only place in town to pick up a resupply package, the Saufley's also provide hikers with a place to stay, hot showers, and laundry. One side of their garage is devoted to hiker packages. Stacks of plastic bins hold clean loaner clothes and towels. A large board provides trail information, ride information, and copies of the latest water report. But on reaching the Saufley's we learned what we already suspected: the Saufley's were full. There was no room at the inn.

A kind neighbor offered to let hikers camp in clean, empty paddocks at her family's commercial farm, the Browning Farm. She also provided a shower, electricity, and food on the farm's outbuildings, and invited hikers to collect fresh eggs from the hens, and to pick and eat berries. The farm was full of interesting sights and sounds: a goat in the milking stall, the pounding of the horses kicking against the stable, the clucking of the chickens, the plaintive cries of the two week old "kids" (baby goats). But after we sorted our resupply and stuffed ourselves with Big Mouth Pizza, we ultimately decided to hike on.

With timely redirection from Chris, another friend of the Saufley's, we soon found ourselves in a quiet camp in the hills above Agua Dulce. Although I was very disappointed to miss the opportunity to get to know Donna Saufley, a wonderful person and trail legend, I was grateful to find such a beautiful, quiet camp by the trail. We fell asleep to the gentle sounds of a light breeze rustling our tent and the coyotes, yipping and howling off in the distance.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Day 33: Messenger Flats Campground to Acton KOA

Soft ukulele music drifted through camp this morning, barely audible over the wind, as Honey Bear quietly played her ukulele in her tent. Although this section of trail has very little shade and is often scorching hot, an icy wind chilled us as we started to hike.

Poodle dog bush covered the trail, lining both sides of the trail in places, leaving little room to walk. In a few places, small plants sprouted from the middle of the trail itself. Our pace slowed to a crawl as we contorted our bodies to try to avoid touching the poodle dog plant that would give us a terrible poison oak-like rash. We successfully avoided contact until the earth gave way underneath Sierra's feet and she fell, landing squarely on top of a poodle dog bush.

Our trail continued through the Station Fire burn area. Charred and blackened trunks and branches rose from the earth more barren and desolate than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But purple poodle dog blossoms were not the only color added to the burned land. A rainbow of wildflowers added color to the grassy hills.

We reached the North Fork Saddle Ranger Station by mid morning. Todd, the resident ranger, provides a shaded picnic area for hikers. Although his own water and electricity are not functional yet, he also provides large bottles of Alhambra drinking water so that hikers have adequate water in this long, hot, dry section.

The "descent" down to Soledad Canyon Road near Acton didn't feel like a descent at all.  The trail meandered over and around several hills and ridges, spending as much time climbing in the hot sun as it did descending, before finally dropping down to Soledad Canyon in the last half mile.

Once there, we followed Soledad Canyon Road to the Acton KOA, where a horde of PCT hikers were already swimming and relaxing in the shade.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 32: Sulphur Springs Campground to Messenger Flats Campground

This morning's hike took us through the outer fringes of the 2009 Station Fire. We walked past blackened oaks with brown leaves, black and gray sticks of manzanita, and charred stumps. Grass, wildflowers, fireweed, and poodle dog bush, some in bloom with delicate purple blossoms, were already moving in to replace what was burned. In places the poodle dog bush was difficult, if not impossible to avoid and we moved slowly to avoid getting the poodle dog bush rash many say is much worse than poison oak.

Although PCT hikers are allowed to pass through the closed section of the Angeles Forest, small segments of the original PCT remain closed and hikers must take a new reroute on dirt roads. Shortly after reaching the detour, we met up with a group of four women we had been leapfrogging all morning: Oasis, Honeybear, Sniper, and Cornnut. Enjoying the novelty of finding six female PCT hikers together on the trail, the six of us hiked together the rest of the day.

We reached the Mill Creek Summit Ranger Station by lunch. The Station allows hikers to use its water and grounds, and many other hikers also ate lunch there. The sight of all those packs and hikers leaned up in the shade of the ranger station building was amusing.

We reached Messenger Flats Campground by dinner. Although there were only a few other hikers there when we arrived, more hikers trickled in all evening, including Funk, Chef, and Trooper, who we hadn't seen since the junction to Idylwild. But even with such a big group, everyone disappeared into sleeping bags and tents by "Hiker Midnight" (9:00) and all was quiet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Day 31: Burkhart Saddle to Sulphur Springs Camp

I woke at dawn and watched the sunrise, the first rays of sun illuminating the scattered clouds with a pink and orange glow. Back on the trail, we were grateful for our ridgetop camp. Several sections of trail on the last leg of the Endangered Species Act reroute (aka the Frog Detour) were covered by rockslides, or were prone to sliding. Easily managed by daylight, those sections would have been treacherous to night hike by headlamp.

We celebrated when we finally reached the end of the Frog Detour and the familiar tread of the original PCT. Several miles later, we reached the Cloudburst Summit highway crossing and met a group of ten other hikers, all of whom chose to walk the road, rather than hike the lengthy official reroute. But they rejoined the trail and we were all still hiking together when we reached 400 miles (413 for us due to the extra miles hiked on the new reroute)!

Late in the afternoon, we reached Three Points Trailhead and were treated to fresh sandwiches, cold drinks, and cookies at Grandpa's Traveling Oasis. Shortly afterward, we discovered a treasure chest next to the trail: someone had filled an old trunk with fresh fruit for hikers!

We arrived at the Sulphur Springs Campground just in time for dinner. Although the Angeles Forest is currently closed due to the ongoing cleanup of the 2009 Station Fire, PCT hikers are allowed to pass through.  PCT hikers are warned of the dangers (trees killed in the fire may fall at any time) and asked to camp in one of three designated areas, including Sulphur Springs.

We ate dinner with three other hikers, including a section hiking couple, Mule Stomper and Sky Pilot. Remember the much appreciated Third Gate water cache 13 miles into a dry 24 mile stretch of PCT between Scissors Crossing and Barrel Springs? Mule Stomper and Sky Pilot are two of the trail angels who help keep it stocked! We were excited to be able to thank them in person, and enjoyed talking with them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 30: Islip Saddle to Burkhart Saddle

The Endangered Species Act Detour is a reroute to avoid a section of the PCT that was closed to protect the habitat and reproduction of the yellow-legged mountain frog. Last year the official reroute took hikers down a section of Highway 2 that had been closed due to a landslide. But Highway 2 is open this year, and the road walk is no longer recommended due to the fast moving traffic on the narrow, winding highway.

Instead, a new, official reroute takes hikers on a 20.5 mile loop to avoid 7.8 miles of frog habitat, adding almost 13 miles to an already circuitous trail. Needless to say, hikers are not excited about this reroute. Most are choosing the old detour, and walking the highway.

But Sierra is determined to hike the official PCT this year, with no skips. And I am nervous about walking along a narrow, winding highway. Besides, we are hiking the PCT...if we wanted to take the short way to Canada we would fly there!

We soon learned that the PCT reroute carried dangers of its own. The route first follows the South Fork trail as it traverses along the side of a steep hill, with rocky cliffs above and a sandy, sheer drop off just below the narrow trail. Small rockslides littered the trail in several places, and portions of the trail were a mere footprint wide. Small rocks occasionally fell away under our feet, cascading hundreds of feet down the steep slope below.

The South Fork creek looked cool, shady, and inviting from a distance. But when we finally reached its sandy shores, we were disappointed to discover that both the creek and its shores were littered with garbage. Empty beer cans and plastic cups floated in the creek. Dirty socks, frayed towels, food wrappers, cigarette packages, and bottle caps lined the shores. Dark black and blue paint defaced the rocks, and the trees were covered with carvings and graffiti. This was, by far, the most abused land we had passed through on our hike thus far.

Navigating the maze of use trails surrounding the South Fork Campground was challenging, but we eventually found our way to the High Desert Trail, the next trail in the new, convoluted PCT reroute. The trail climbed and descended several ridges, passing yucca, sage, prickly pear cactus, manzanita, and other high desert plants, and providing views of the unusual sandstone rock formations of Devil's Punchbowl park.

Hearing a shriek ahead on the trail, I stopped, motionless. A few second later, Sierra reassured me, explaining that a strange snake had hissed at her, but not to worry, it wasn't a rattlesnake. As she was finishing her explanation, I heard a strange rattling hiss in front on me on the trail. It was Sierra's snake, tightly coiled with head alert, slightly darker than the other varieties we've seen, but clearly a rattlesnake. The snake looked at me for a moment, then slowly uncoiled and slithered into the bushes.

We stopped for dinner at Cruthers Creek, trying to eat quickly before the ravenous swarms of mosquitoes ate us. Then we hiked on, climbing out of Cruthers Canyon just in time to watch the sunset. With no camp in sight, we continued to climb on into the twilight and then by headlamp into the moonless night.

Reaching the top of Burkhart Saddle, we found a flat, sandy spot near the trail: the first possible campsite since starting the steep climb. We quickly threw down our sleeping pads and fell asleep under the stars.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day 29: Highway 2 to Islip Saddle

Returning to the trail, we climbed into a mixed pine and fir forest along a ridge. As we hiked, we thought of the many footprints left on the trail before us. My brother Kevin has left many footprints here. Approximately 40 miles of the PCT is used as part of the Angeles Crest 100 race course (a 100 mile trail run), and Kevin has run here several times.

Many boy scouts have also left their footprints here. The Boy Scouts helped to build a section of trail through the San Gabriel Mountains, and every year groups of Southern California boy scouts hike a section of trail as part of a 50 mile hike to earn their hiking merit badge.

Many of those 50-mile boy scout hikes culminate with a trek to the top of the 9,399 foot Mt. Baden Powell, named for the Boy Scouts' founder. Dropping down the ridge through a shady tunnel of oaks, we reached Vincent Gap, a popular trailhead for those choosing to day hike to the top of the mountain. As we climbed we met a steady stream of day hikers, boy scouts, and trail runners descending the mountain, the highest concentration of hikers we've seen thus far. One runner, training for the Angeles Crest run, was running laps up and down the trail.

The climb followed steady switchbacks through a mostly shaded mixed pine and fir forest. As we climbed the forest thinned out, and the tall trees were replaced with shorter varieties, such as Limber pines, that can withstand the higher winds and heavier snow load of higher elevations. We crossed a few small patches of snow on the trail, but when we reached the top of Mount Baden-Powell it was bare. Several other PCT hikers were already there, enjoying the incredible views of the surrounding San Gabriel mountains and the tall skyscrapers of Los Angeles off in the distance.

Rejoining the PCT from Mount Baden-Powell, we continued to enjoy incredible views as the trail followed a high, open ridge for several miles before gently descending through the forest to Little Jimmy Campground (popular with bears) and Islip Saddle. We found camp near Islip Saddle, a hard, sandy flat with steep, rocky cliffs both above and below, and views of the sunset over the San Gabriel Mountains and the glow of the electric lights in Los Angeles.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Day 28: Zero Days

A zero day is a day that you hike zero miles on the PCT, usually a rest day. Zero days are most often taken in trail towns, to facilitate resupplies. But zero days in town usually involve chores such as laundry and grocery shopping, so many hikers report that their most relaxing zero days have been those taken on the trail.

Our first priority when we reached the trail town of Wrightwood was, as you know, food: a large pizza and salad at Mile High Pizza. Delicious! But what else do hikers do on zero days?

Resupply: Many hikers send boxes of food and other supplies ahead to various trail towns along the way. Other hikers choose to buy most of their food and supplies in trail towns along the way. Regardless of resupply strategy, most hikers usually end up at the grocery store for fresh food. Trips to other stores to replace worn out gear (we are both on our second pairs of shoes) are also sometimes necessary.

Laundry: Most trail towns have laundry facilities, whether at a laundromat, hotel, or campground. Some places, such as the Big Bear Hostel, even offer loaner clothing for hikers to wear while doing their laundry. Where loaner clothing is not available, it is not uncommon to find hikers wearing rain gear in town, even in the sweltering heat, while their hiking clothes are being washed.

Recharge: Both human bodies and electronic devices need time to recharge. Zero days in town offer hikers the opportunity to charge any electronics. Hikers also recharge their own bodies with lots of fresh food, cold liquids, and rest.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day 27: Sheep Creek Truck Road to Highway 2

A thick fog settled over our ridge in the night. We woke to damp sleeping bags and gear. Another PCT hiker passed our camp in the middle of the night, hiking by headlamp, perhaps trying to avoid the heat of the day or perhaps wanting to reach Wrightwood (the next resupply) by morning.

Today's route continued to climb. And climb. And climb. But the fog brought cooler temperatures, and we were compensated for our efforts with incredible views of the surrounding hills and the foggy desert floor.

Most of the trees we otherwise would have encountered this morning were destroyed in the Sheep Fire. But as we climbed higher we passed through a tunnel of oak trees and then entered a pine and fir forest. We stopped for lunch on a breezy ridge, using gnarled tree roots for chairs.  Unfortunately when we left this scenic spot, Sierra's purple titanium Snow Peak mug was left behind.

We reached the Mountain High ski resort in late afternoon. The open, grassy slopes and abandoned chair lifts suggested that the resort had been closed for the season some time ago.

Stopping for a moment to look at the ski trail map sign, I noticed Highway 2, the Angeles Crest Highway down below. Our steps quickened as we thought of the Mile High Pizza waiting for us in the nearby trail town of Wrightwood, and we soon made it to the trailhead. And the verdict on Mile High Pizza? Worth hiking 369 miles for!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 26: Cajon Pass to Sheep Creek Truck Road

We're lovin' it! Despite feeling very strange and out of place when we stopped in at McDonald's last night, we stopped in again for breakfast on our way back to the trail this morning. Although we were no less conspicuous this morning (carrying packs and dressed in hiking clothes), we were greeted by a far more welcoming crowd this morning. Several other hikers were there, and many of the regular customers stopped to ask us about our hike. Thanks again to Julie of Wrightwood whose offer of support and encouragement were greatly appreciated.

Back on the trail, we entered a long, dark tunnel underneath the freeway. Sierra spotted the dried mud nests of a group of swallows, who were taking advantage of the cool, dark underpass to build their nests. They peeked their heads out of the tiny openings to inspect us as we hiked past.

Climbing into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, we passed the Mormon Rocks, ruggedly beautiful sandstone outcroppings sculpted over time by wind and erosion. Dropping into Swarthout Canyon, we recognized the distinctive, light purple, bell shaped blossoms of the poisonous poodle dog bush. Poison oak was also pervasive, nestling in among other non-poisonous varieties and camouflaging itself with many different variations of leaf sizes, shapes, and hues.

Off to a late start this morning, we nevertheless took a lengthy lunch, relaxing on a breezy ridge with a beautiful view of the surrounding hills and desert valley. We resolved to make up the time in the afternoon, but were thwarted by the unexpected appearance of trail magic in Swarthout Canyon, with shelves of water, lemon flavored Crystal Geyser mineral water, and chairs. A few hikers were already there taking a siesta, and we stayed there talking about books with the Three Gay Caballeros for over an hour.

Climbing up the next canyon, we met a large, brown, hairy spider. A tarantula. Although rather intimidating in appearance, the large spider was quite shy, ducking under the nearby grass to avoid our gaze.

We are now camped cowgirl style on top of a breezy ridge, looking forward to a view of the stars.