Thursday, April 20 — day 25

PCT mile 347.22 to 364.35

Today will be a challenging day: 15 miles,  5,000 feet uphill from desert to pines, and no water along the way.  Also, the spring at the intended campsite is reported to be not yet flowing :/
Here’s where I came from last night

And here’s where I’m going — near that snowy bit (Mt Baldy).

The trail was a continuous 15 miles uphill — not too steep but unrelenting.  I did not capture too many pictures as the first 11 miles was through yet another wicked burn area.

I did capture a nice photo of a Western Wall Flower

When I was a kid, we would all pile into the station wagon and drive into these very mountains on a dirt road to a place we affectionately called “our spot” on the mountain.  I hiked by a spot that could be that place, but who knows — I was surely close to it as this area is pretty small.  I recall that we always packed a lunch of pimento-cheese sandwiches and apple-filled oatmeal cookies on our trips.  Too bad this area was burned so badly, but it was still great to enjoy the nostalgia.

I eventually climb up and out of the burned area and into a beautifully forested, shaded an pine-scented forest with views of Mt Baldy

I reached Guffy campground around 3pm and pulled out my ground cloth and inflatable pad, took off my shoes and rested my feet (and back, and legs, and…).

A young gal who lives in Wrightwood happened by and we chatted about the area and trail.  She did not know where the local spring was, but she did have an extra coconut water drink she did not want.  Score!!  It was great!  I then started looking for the elusive Guffy Spring.  I texted with DoubleTap who manages the extremely vital online PCT Water report (  This page is updated by hikers and Angels who report on water conditions for those other hikers behind.  I’ve been actively reporting since day one and today I wanted to find out if Guffy Spring was still dry (as reported a week ago).  I was elated to find it was flowing after DoubleTap gave me directions on where to find it.  Yay!  This will be a relief to the surge of hikers behind me.  If you do visit the PCT Water site you may still find some reports by Dalem…

It was chilly up at this elevation and I celebrated my long day with a cup of hot cocoa, water, ginger snaps, raisins and the last of the Fritos.  I set up the tent, as the wind was picking up and it is cold at this elevation, and climbed in as the sun was setting.

Tomorrow I’ll hike a few miles to Hwy 2 where I will hitch a ride to Wrightwood, get a real breakfast, and meet up with Liz!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, Apr 19 — day 24

PCT mile 326.41 to 347.22 (+ 1 mile to McDonalds)

The first goal of the day is to hike over to the PCT’s favorite McDonalds at Cajon Pass on I-15.  

As expected my tent was soaked!  Outside from dew (no rain) and inside from condensation (breathing).  Luckily it was only on the rain fly and not the inner tent, so I carefully removed it, gave it a good shake and hung it up while I packed and ate.  It was still plenty wet so I’ll have to hang it out again at lunch.

I forgot to post my flower pic from yesterday.  This was the darkest orange poppy I have seen.

I hiked out of Lake Silverwood and started climbing ridges again.  Here’s a view looking back at the lake.

I saw some familiar friends along the way – the ubiquitous and skittish blue-belly Lizard, 

and the lethargic gopher snake – this guy/gal did not move and I had to step over him/her.

Looking back I can see some of the mountains I passed through

 At the top of the ridge above Cajon Pass the soil changed from rocky to more clayish and was deeply and steeply eroded.

The trail Went completely around this cliff for about 1/4 mile just 3 feet from the edge.  I wondered if they have to rebuild the trail every few years because it erodes away! 
As I walked down the creekbed to I saw an interesting rock tower the creek was running around

I finally descended to the interstate and was greeted by the his most important PCT sign:

… where I splerged!  There may have been a second Qtr Pounder…

I hung out for quite a while there and more Hikers showed up in drive and drabs. We all compared notes and plans for the next section – a 22 mile uphill with no water.  That’s means I need to carry extra, which means an angry, heavy pack.  Ugh.  I filled every bottle I had with the advertised “filtered”, cold McDonald’s water — 5 liters in total.

I noticed that the fire hydrants near the McDonald’s are locked!  They also have a are labeled “Private”

I guess water is prescious here to others besides me…

One hiker in McD’s, Candido, wanted to see the bottoms of my shoes “just to check…”. I showed him and he said “yep, you have the ‘eye’ footprints” and then he showed me his hiker register:

Not bad!  Here’s a photo of my footprint.

My plan is to hike 8 miles in, up an over and down a smaller ridge and camp in a wide canyon and save the loooong uphill to Guffy Campground for Thursday.

I hiked under I-15, then under and over a couple of Railroad crossings.  The rocks here are great and I remember visiting them as a kid.

The railroad business is doing great here – I’ve been hearing train whistles regularly for the last few days and now I see long strings of double-stacked container cars going by all the time – like every half hot or so!

I’m hiking the ridgetop here

Just as the sun was setting and I had hiked close to where I wanted to camp, I came upon a water cache maintained by a local Trail Angel!  This was perfect because I can save all my water for tomorrow’s hike and replenish tonight and tomorrow morning!  Bonus was a great (meaning flat) campsite nearby!

I cowboy camped here and slept great.  There were the ever present train whistles, but that did not deter me from sleeping.  I was wakened by a yipping pack of coyotes very nearby that were probably upset by my being in their hood.

Thanks for reading!  Also, apologies for odd phrasings or wired words: I’m typing these on my phone (hunt-and-peck) and autocorrections sometimes sneak past me.

Tuesday, Apr 18 — day 23

PCT mile 306.16 to 326.41
One problem with cowboy camping is exposure to dew.  And being down in a valley close to water the dew finally got me and my bag is a bit wet on top but still plenty warm. I really had no choice on camping spots – going uphill is not much of an option as it is steep, and I did need water and a bath.  It’s not a big deal, I’ll just need to pack it wet and pull it out and sun dry it when I stop for lunch.  Here’s another view of Deep Creek.

I realized this morning that I’ve hiked 300 miles! Not only another PCT milestone but a personal one — my extended John Muir Trail hike was 280 miles. Oh, and it’s my birthday!  I found this on the trail earlier — not sure what the reason was, but I’ll take it as a “Yay, we’ve hiked 300 miles”.

I hiked/climbed back up to the trail and started towards the thing that makes this bit of the trail so popular — the Deep Creek Hot Springs. These hot springs have a bit of a checkered past — they are reportedly a favorite of a Charles Manson and his crew, and more recently have been known to have an amoeba that causes meningitis. What’s not to like about that?  The PCT maps suggest not dunking your head and collect drinking water upstream…. and the I ran into this on the trail.

I decided to skip the Springs… and as I hiked by and looked down I saw a bunch of tents, trash and was barked at and a bit harassed by 3 big, loose, aggressive dogs. Yeah, not such a nice place…

A bit later I crossed to the other side of the valley on a rainbow bridge.

I hiked all the way to the Mojave Dam which holds back the waters of both Deep Creek and the West Fork of the Mojave River.  The dam is surprisingly tall for the amount of water there now, which I assumed was near peak season — I guess the winters can bring tons more…

The trail climbed up a bit and traversed quite a ways through a recently burned area.  

But this area, although scorched to just burnt article in some areas is regrowing quickly.

I frightened quite a few more blue-belly lizards but also and across many Horny Toads, including one that let me catch him/her.  Once caught, these lizards calm down and I was able to get a few good shots of him.

The trail is a looooong traverse heading towards a reservoir named Silverwood Lake.  I hiked by the dam, which was covered by an impressive pile of rocks.

I hiked up to and around the lake, with a wary eye on the ever increasing and advancing clouds.

I stopped for the night at a boat-accessible picnic area.  Every spot was literally filled with trash, even though there are many trash cans.  There were beer cans all over the beach, bottles, food, dog poop and plastic Easter-egg shells all over the place.  It was so sad.  Long distance hikers try to follow the “Leave no Trace” philosophy — we even carry out our TP.  Oh well….

I decided to setup my tent on the shore, knowing it will get covered with dew or rain.

I ate my birthday dinner on the cleanest picnic table I could find.

Here’s the view from my tent —  it’s the clouds have advanced!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, Apr 17 — day 22

PCT mile 286.69 to 306.16

Today is a mostly downhill hiking day following Holcomb Creek, bopping over a ridge an then following Deep Creek.  
As I descended I saw Sugar Pines

Jefferey or Ponderosa Pines

Coulter Pines,

 Piñon Pines — I thought I had a pic of a Piñon pine cone, but I don’t so here’s some Staghorh Lichen instead.

And even Black Oak — this is the first Black Oak I’ve seen on a the trip.  Piyush, take note this is a type of Oak we don’t see much of in the South Bay…

I got another good view of the next range I’ll be climbing — the ones with Mt Baldy, Wrightwood and Mt Baden-Powel.

The flowers were spectacular once again

And I ran into about four of the local garter snakes — this variety is a lot longer than the ones I’m used to seeing.  I wonder if that helps them cling to the steep canyon walls better…

I have seen an unusual number of balloons along the trail — like a dozen or so!  At first I thought someone was marking spots on the trail, but then I saw them across the valley and up in trees.  I think strays are blown from cities into the remote high elevation valleys. It’s too bad mylar takes a long time to decentegrate. 

The first half of the day was hiking through an area that burned recently. This section of trail is in need of maintenance — there were several downed trees I had to crawl under, over and around, plus trail slip outs on steep slopes, trail covered in landslides, and shrubs and trees growing onto the trail. There were also a few challenging stream crossing (find the right set of stones or logs — no fording). I didn’t exactly hike the speed I was hoping for.

The next section started at the bridge over Deep Creek

That’s Claire and Ergen(?) from Switzerland on the bridge.

This section of trail seems very popular and well maintained. It follows Deep Creek all the way down to the Mohave Dam some 14 miles away. The creek is beautiful as it flows though the narrow valley. There are several inviting pools and cascades. The problem is that the trail is always 50 to 300 vertical feet above the creek on a steep incline. There are some side trails going down to the water, many resembling landslides (no thanks!) but I did find a reasonably accessible and secluded small sandy beach as my campsite. I arrived early enough to wash my clothes (meaning rinse– no soap) and bathe my dirty skin and soak my tired feet. It felt awesome! I made a flat bed of sand and Cowboy’ed it for the night. The sun set early in this valley and I think I fell asleep by 6:30pm! I slept great on the soft sand with the stream sound making the perfect lullaby.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, Apr 16 — day 21

PCT mile 266.12 to 286.69

After a day of sloth I am ready to get hiking again! Suki picked me up and dropped me off right where she found me on Friday. We hugged goodbye and I was off.The trail here goes through a dense Piñon Pine and Juniper forest with occasional views of the deserts to the north. The only flowers in bloom are Douglass Phlox.  

There are also a few large Cedars here

I have been seeing a lot of deer tracks but until today the only deer I saw were eating the grass in people’s lawns in Idyllwild, but today I saw a deer in the wild. I’m still surprised I have not seen more.

When I cross to the southern facing side of the ridge I am rewards with a view of Big Bear Lake.

The only other critters I see are the skittish squirrels and chipmunks that I cannot seem to get a photo of, and the Western Fence Lizard which I finally got a decent photo of. These lizards are very common all over CA, I think, and I see many dozens of them on the trail daily.  They often hang out on rocks doing push-ups to impress the ladies and scare off other males.  They usually see me first and take off fast, but sometimes straight at me at first then they spin around and shoot up the trail then off to some safer place.

I used to keep these lizards as pets as a kid. The common name for these is Blue-Belly Lizard because they have bright blue patches on the sides of their abdomens. I used to be able to catch these guys as a kid, and if I ever do on this trip, I’ll post a photo. Their backs can range in colors from light brown and grey with patterns to jet black, sometimes with a line of red or blue.  

Around another corner and I enter a large burn area. I do not know how long ago this burned, but since I do not see ash or charcoals I think it burned years before the Mountain Fire I hiked through a few days ago.

A bit more on the trail and I see the next mountain range I’m headed for with Mt Baldy, Wrightwood and Mt BadenPowel.

Since there has not been as much wildlife diversity today, I captured photos of some common insects I’ve seen: a Ladybug hiding in a bush 

and a Stink Bug

The Stink Bug is a type of Dung Beetle, but I have yet to see one rolling its prize down the trail…

I arrived at my camping site early, and while I probably should have pressed on to the next, I decided that since I’ve already completed 20 miles today and feeling a bit sore that the additional 6 miles to the next campsite would take a few hours, so I’ll just stay here. I thought I’d share my cowboy camp setup:

There are many bonuses for cowboy camping:  faster setup and takedown, stars at night, and lots of fresh air (you may not realize this, but I kinda carry a foul odor about me…).  I can cowboy camp when it’s not rainy, windy, buggy or super cold.

Since it’s been a slow day, I’ll finish with a selfie just in case you forgot what I look like.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday April 15 – day 20

Zero day!

Today was my down day – I spent the day in and around Big Bear.

Suki picked me up this morning and drove me to the food stores a few miles down the road where I resupplied for the 5-6 day jaunt to Wrightwood.  I tried to focus on lightweight foods, did toss in a few Snickers and a bag of raisins.  We also stopped at an outfitters store to get me a warm pair of gloves.

We then drove around Big Bear Lake before grabbing breakfast at the Broadway Cafe.  Notice to PCTers: they have a fantastic breakfast deal for hikers on Sundays: eggs, bacon, sausage, OJ, coffee and unlimited pancakes for only $7.50!  I was stuffed.

The rest of the day was just chilling in the room sorting food, cleaning stuff and letting my tired muscles and slightly sunburned face recover.

I did get to chat with Liz and thank her again for the surprise Sees Chocolates she snuck into my Idyllwild resupply box!  They were yummy!

Tomorrow Suki offered to drop me off where she picked me up so I can continue hiking on the ridge above the north side of Big Bear Lake headed to El Cajon Pass at Hwy 15 and then on to Wrightwood on Friday for my next Zero.  

Liz is driving down to meet me there!

Well, time to back to being a sloth.  More trail stories and pics starting tomorrow!

Thanks for reading!

Friday April 14 — day 19

I got up early and started hiking with the thought of a _real_ breakfast in Big Bear.  I cranked out six miles in record time!  

My memories of Big Bear are of a forested area in the middle of mountains above San Bernadino.  I learned today that Big Bear is just one tidge away from a stop drop down into the dessert near Yucca and Landers, so I was surprised to see Joshua Trees

And sweeping desert views

I reached Hwy 18 and started thumbing.  It was just me, so I tried to clean myself up and comb my scraggly hair with a wet bandana.  It looked only slightly better…

Ok, dear reader, I need you to sit down because this next bit is just too much to take standing up — it certainly was for me…

Within 5 minutes and about as many cars, a solo woman drove by, saw me and pulled over to give me a ride.  We started chatting and she asked me where I was from.  “Los Gatos, near San Jose, but I grew up in Costa Mesa”, I said.  

“Oh, I grew up in Newport Beach, small world!” She said, “Where did you go to school — I went to Newport Harbor High.”

“Wow” I replied, “I went to Estancia High but I know a lot of people that went to NHH because of the St James Eppiscopal Youth Group I was in.”

She looked hard at me and said “What is your name? I’m Suki”

“Not Suki ______?” I asked (last name redacted at her request).

“Yes, I am”…..

Whoa…  we both started tearing up (as I am now as I write this).  

One summer when I was about 16 I helped with activities for the Jr Youth Goup.  I still remember only two of those great kids and Suki was one because of her happy, fun loving spirit.  I have not seen Suki in all these years but she is the only Suki I ever knew and I periodically have wondered what’s become of her.  I am blown away by this meeting!  What are the odds?

I’m now wearing my rain clothes sitting in the laundromat waiting to check in to the local Motel 6.

Side note: Gregg Gatewood, if you are reading, your little sister, Cari(?) is the other great kid I recall.

I may post more later….  my head is spinning.

Thanks for reading.