Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Day 25: Camp Near Highway 173 to Cajon Pass

Sleeping out under the stars provided many distractions that were not exactly conducive to sleep. Sierra loved looking at the stars, naming constellations, and watching the lights of airplanes as they passed over. Mosquitoes and other flying insects occasionally buzzed past our ears, trains roared through the valley, cars passed on the nearby highway, and nighttime walkers talked loudly on the dam immediately above us, providing less welcome distractions. We woke from a somewhat restless sleep at dawn, the morning doves competing with other birds for our attention.

The PCT shares a half mile of tread with Highway 173, so this morning's hike started with a road walk on the narrow shoulder of a two-lane highway. Although traffic is light on this remote highway, we were grateful to return to real trail again. We were even more grateful to discover a cooler of trail magic under an oak tree, including ice cold water someone had taken the time to freeze before placing in the cooler.

We were soon treated to our first glimpse of Silverwood Lake. The first side trail down to the lake's sandy shores proved irresistible, and we hiked down to enjoy the beach for a while. Large driftwood logs provided comfortable seating while we watched the waves gently lapping against the sand.  Large blue dragonflies hovered overhead like miniature helicopters. Clusters of white and yellow flowers added color to the morning.

Returning to the trail, we found the day hot and getting hotter by the minute. The trail circumnavigates the lake just a few hundred feet above the water. So close to the water the air is hot and humid, and the taller ridges above prevent any cooling breezes from reaching the trail.

The climb away from the lake up Cleghorn Ridge was even hotter. Heat reflected off of the lightly colored sand and gravel on the trail and was trapped in the moist green leaves of the trailside shrubbery. The water in our bottles felt like hot tea, metal burned to the touch, and our packet of sour gummy worms was reduced to a mass of rainbow colored goo.

Suffering in the heat, I thought I imagined the gentle gurgling of fresh water. But just ahead the ravine held an oasis in the desert: a small creek, shaded by thick brush and trees. Excited by the prospect of cool, clean water, Sierra began to hum G. F. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Tucked away under the low trees and shrubs near the creek, another hiker responded in kind by singing Amazing Grace.

Hostile plants, including thorny shrubs and poison oak, grew over the trail in the next section. Pushing through the thick overgrowth, Sierra did not notice when she almost stepped on a baby rattlesnake. Just over a foot long, with a distinctive, diamond-shaped head, thin neck, and developing rattles on the final centimeter of its tail, the snake slithered away into the brush.

The final section of trail meandered endlessly from the knife-edge of one steep ridge to another, before finally dropping down to Cajon Pass. We reached the trailhead at the same time as two hikers from Amsterdam, and together walked the short distance up the road that led to icy cold drinks and fresh hot food.

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