Saturday, April 30, 2016

Enter the Vortex

Day 25 - April 30
Mile: 444.5 to 454.5
up/down: 2050/1750 feet

There is a large herd of hikers just behind us, and where we wanted to go today has a limit. Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce is a fixture on the PCT. Jeff and Donna (L-Rod) Saufley are trail hosts extraordinaire, opening their home to hikers passing through for nearly 20 years. All run by volunteers, its an amazing setup with laundry, loaner clothes, showers, limited sleeping quarters but lots of tent space, and infinite space to just hang out with our fellow hiker trash. We weren't sure if we were staying the night but after a big lunch in town and waffling a little on heading out this evening, we were sucked into the vortex. It's an easy trap to fall into - many hikers will spend days in towns. We will be out of here early tomorrow morning for sure. Really. I mean it. 


We get the little RV for the evening!


Our friend Stan came to visit and brought us some goodies for the afternoon and the next section. We continue to be amazed at the generosity of our friends. Thanks Stan for the magic!

It took us 10 miles to get here coming out of the KOA, over a big ridge and down to Highway 14. The tunnel under the road was the coolest thing, shaped just like the PCT emblem. A coincidence? I think not! 


Up next was the fascinating Vasquez Rocks State Park. We have driven by this spot along the highway dozens of times but never stopped. And here we are walking through. It was pretty cool. The only disappointment was the lack of birds in a great riparian area. At the end of April this spot should have been hopping with migrants and all we could com up with aside from the resident birds was one Wilson's Warbler. Oh well. 




Hey Tom and Liga, which Calochortus?

So we're chillin' for the evening and resting up for a tough section upcoming. And after spending a week traversing the San Gabriel Mountains going WEST and gaining nothing on getting to Canada, we get to go north again!


Friday, April 29, 2016

Down Time

Day 24 - April 29
Mile: 430.5 to 444.5
up/down: 2000/5650

New LA County birds for Susan:
Common Poorwill
Western Screech-Owl

It's been a tough week with weather, terrain, and mileage. So when we got to the Acton KOA in the early afternoon, the draw of a shower and shade grabbed us and wouldn't let go. So we're here for the evening and will go again tomorrow morning with the goal to get to the Hiker Heaven trail angel house and our next resupply in Auga Dulce. 

Not much to report on the hike today, a continuation of the burn from the 2009 Powerhouse Fire. It was mostly down but in the sneaky way of the PCT, the trail managed to have plenty of uphill to keep us honest. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Fire, Water, and a Poodle-dog Go-Around

Day 23 - April 28
Mile: 406.5 to 430.5
up/down: 5550/5000

Q: How do you walk 24 miles? A: Walk 2 mph average for 12 hours. And that's pretty much what we did today. And throw in 5000 feet of up and down and you might think we're tired- and you'd be right!  This is a tough water section and we want to get through while the cool weather holds. We left camp this morning having carried water there for 10 miles and still had to go 12 today before our only source for the day at Mill Creek Summit Fire Station. Next stop after the fire station is 24 miles to the town of Acton. It's hard enough to do this in cool weather, I can't imagine how hard it would be if we had to carry even more in hot temperatures. As it was we left there at noon today with 5 liters each. That's a lot of water weight.

Q: What strikes more fear in hikers than icy trails on Fuller Ridge? A: Poodle-dog Bush. The day was spent finishing the western end of the San Gabriel Mountains mostly in old fire areas. Tomorrow we will make the final descent out of this mountain range. Wildfires in chaparral are a normal occurrence and the habitat bounces back relatively quickly. One early succession plant is the poodle-dog bush which can cause severe irritation similar to poison oak.  Not everyone is affected by it but those who are can have serious reaction. An 8 mile section we walked today has been so overgrown with it in the past few year that a road walk bypass was created. But like any early succession species it will eventually give way to other bushes and shrubs. Susan knows she is immune to it. Years ago before we knew what it was she collected some to identify it. No reaction from the handling. I did a test with some on one of our training hikes a while back and brushed it on the back of my hand. Nothing. With little fear and reports that the amount of the plant has diminished we took the regular route. It was a good choice, minimal poodle-dog bush and a nice hike. Best of all, no road walking!

Highway 2 and a Frog Go-Around

Day 22 - April 27
Mile: 386 to 406.5 (plus bonus)
up/down: 4925/6300

New trip bird: 
Western Tanager 

New LA County birds for Susan:
Calliope Hummingbird 
Olive-sided Flycatcher

Our friend, CA Highway 2, or the Angeles Crest Highway. We slept next to it for two nights then today crossed it half a dozen times and walked 3 miles of it for good measure. We started by ascending Mt Williamson most of the way to the top then immediately dropping right back to the highway. This would be the theme for the day - walk some trail up and down then cross the highway. Except when we came to the frog detour. The trail is closed between mile 390 and 394 to protect the habit of the  endangered Mountain Yellow-legged Frog. The walk around requires a 3 mile road walk down Hwy 2, followed by ducking through the giant Buckhorn Flat Campground, and finally connecting back to the PCT using the Buckhart Trail. It added about a mile overall but worst of all was the pavement pounding. After days of trail hiking it takes only minutes on pavement before legs and feet start screaming. We were fortunate that large sections of the highway were closed for winter damage repair so traffic was extremely light. 

We emerged back on the trail in Cooper Canyon, pretty enough with large stands of mature conifers. We ascended all the way to the head of the canyon, crossed the top, and what do you know, there's the highway again!  From there we started the real descent that will take us out of the mountains. At mile 403 we crossed that damn road one last time only to find MAGIC in a small picnic area. "Maverick" hiked the trail last year and was just out for the day providing good eats for us weary hikers. It couldn't have come at a better time for us, we were tired and hungry and in need of some magic. We enjoyed some good food and company and were ready for the final push to camp. The last 3.5 miles traveled a lovely oak and pine transition habitat mixed with chaparral. We're at 5500 feet tonight and have to climb back to 7000 in the morning. Such is the way of the PCT. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Mount Baden-Powell

Day 21 - April 26
Mile: 374 to 386
up/down: 3350/3300 feet

Today wasn't so much about miles as it was survival. Our story resumes where we left off last night, just as I pushed go to upload the blog. We had ended our day early, foregoing the ascent up Baden-Powell because the weather looked dodgy. As I walked back to the tent the snow pellets got serious and a full-on blizzard ensued. It lasted an hour or more and got us looking at map options for getting around the big mountain and miles of high ridges that follow. We could walk highway 2 instead, but what fun would that be?

Morning came and the wind had settled. Snow at the 6500 foot elevation we were camped at had only accumulated an inch or two and was already starting to melt where the early sun hit. We are going up!  The first couple miles of the four mile ascent were easy enough, but as we gained altitude the old icy drifts, now covered in a few inches of fresh powder, became more troublesome. It was slow going but we finally made it to the spur trail for the top and made it up. It was perfect conditions and great views. 

Mt Baldy from Baden-Powell

Dropping a few hundred feet back down we took the PCT continuation toward the west and on the north facing slope. Here the trail got a lot more difficult. There were long stretches of slippery ice that had to be managed. We didn't get very far very fast. After passing three more summits at high elevation we finally started to descend to a more reasonable, and relatively snow free, elevation. We made Little Jimmy Spring in the early afternoon for our first water source since yesterday morning. Continuing on we hit Hwy 2 at Islip Saddle in fading afternoon light. The trail climbs a thousand feet from here, and with no known campsites within reach we threw in the towel. We found a stealthy camp site away from the parking lot and are settled in for another cold night. I know I'll be complaining about the hot in just a couple days as we drop into the desert, but boy does 20 degrees warmer sound really good about now. 

I was asked recently how I come up with the elevation change (up/down) that I include with each post. I have an app on the phone put out by Lon "Halfmile" Cooper. Halfmile walked the trail in 2014 carrying a precision GPS unit to measure both the length of the trail and obtain an accurate elevation profile. The app allows me to look between any two points and see the amount of ascend and descend. Here is a screen capture for the section we did today:

You can read more about the Halfmile project here:

Monday, April 25, 2016


Day 20 - April 25
Mile: 364.5 to 374
up/down: 1350/3050 feet 

No new birds today. 

Another town day, this one with a little help from our friends. We woke to the coldest temperature of the trip, 25F with wicked 20+ mph winds. Getting going was brutal but we had an appointment to keep. We continued to traverse the ridge top passing many ski fixtures for Mountain High Ski Resort. The most interesting was the giant holding ponds, impoundments for snow making water we guessed. We made Inspiration Point at mile 364 at 9am and true to his word there was my friend Randy with his wife Perri. We scooted down the hill in their car, picked up our box at the hardware store, then proceeded to demolish about a million calories (Susan and I) at a local cafe. It was great to see them and spend a few hours together. All good things must end and the trail awaited. 

Baden-Powell on the right

Holding pond. Unfortunately no birds. 

We started where we left off and continued on toward the largest mountain we will climb in the San Gabiels on the PCT, Baden-Powell.  We got to Vincent Gap and the start of the four mile and 2800 foot climb to the summit. Staring up at the deteriorating conditions and calculating the amount of light we had left, we pulled the plug on the day. We are now stealth camping near the trailhead parking area and will give it a go tomorrow morning. The weather is predicted to be better for one day before the next storms system arrives. That's all we need to get over and to much lower elevation. As I sit here typing this in the late afternoon, at nearly 2000 feet lower elevation the last night, the temperature is plummeting, snow pellets are falling, and the wind hasn't let up. Not going up the mountain was the right decision. 

View down to the desert 

A huge thank you to Randy and Perri for making the effort to help us out. It sure save a lot of time and hassle getting in and out of town. And it is always great to spend time with special friends. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

That. Was. Hard.

Day 19 - April 24
Mile 342 to 364.5
up/down: 8000/2800 feet

New birds:
Cedar Waxwing (motel grounds)
Vaux's Swift (circling us on the lower ridges)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (in the firs at 8000 ft.)

No use wasting a perfectly good breakfast- we hammered the motel buffet before hitting the road. And road it was as we had a mile walk on a busy road to get back to the trail. Our route started with a long tunnel under I-15 then wound around the rail track before starting the ascent in earnest. Similar to our approach to Cajon Pass from the south two days before (but without the howling winds), our trail followed eroded sandstone canyons and knife edge ridges. After a few miles we dropped into the San Andreas Rift, a broad valley that we crossed to get to the real mountains. From the it was up, and up, and up following ridges and always gaining altitude. We passed through chaparral to oak scrub, then hit a stretch of Douglas Fir, and finally the White Fir and Jeffrey Pines of the montane. The views all day were spectacular. We finally reached Guffy Camp, the only water source all day, and called it a day. It is really cold out, the wind is howling over the ridge, and we're very tired. 

We resupply in Wrightwood tomorrow. I really screwed this one up when planning. Wrightwood is a popular resupply destination so I just went with it. What I didn't take into account was getting there from the trail. Our camp tonight is on a ridge overlooking Wrightwood - TWENTY FIVE HUNDRED FEET BELOW!  There are two possible ways to get to town from the trail. The Acorn trail goes from near this camp into town on a 4 mile switchback jaunt down the mountain. Or we can continue 5 miles to where Highway 2 and the PCT meet and try the notoriously difficult hitch into town. What to do? Call a friend! Randy and I go back to grade school and were best of friends growing up and stayed close ever since.  He's been following the blog and keeping up with us. I knew his mother had lived in Wrightwood for many years so texted him to see if they had any contacts to help us with the ride. But that wasn't good enough for my friend, he is driving down tomorrow morning to meet us and ferry us to town and back. We are again humbled by the generosity of our friends as we continue this pursuit. Thank you Randy. 

The town of Wrightwood far below 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Zero Day

Day 18 - April 23
Miles: 0

There are times when I think we should give Susan the new trail name of "Twitchy" because she can't sit still - ever. Even on our Nero days (trail speak for less than 10 miles in a day) she gets restless quickly. So I was a little shocked when she finally conceded to taking a full Zero day today. All thru hikers take zeros along the way, typically quite a few over the course of a 5+ month hike. Only the most elite athletes do this day after day without rest. Elite we are not...  

We've already had the motel included full breakfast - twice!  We will chill in the room the rest of the day and have Del Taco for dinner (not many choices around these parts). We hope to be on the trail early tomorrow for what will be a difficult stretch - we must climb 5000 feet in 20+ miles with no water sources. We will leave here carrying 5 to 6 liters of water each. At two pounds per liter, you can do the math. Ugh. 

We did get a new trip bird right outside our motel door, a Hooded Oriole. New total 142.  And there is a Cliff Swallow nesting in the alcove of our balcony. 

Some other random thoughts from the first 340 miles:

- We are hiking really well overall. I'm really impressed with how strong Susan is day after day. 
- Typing a blog nightly on a tiny phone screen after hiking all day, settling up camp, and cooking dinner can be difficult. Please forgive my lapses in grammar, typos, and generally incoherent thoughts...
- There are bird species that are relatively hard to see where we live that are so abundant in the right habitat that I've been amazed. California Thrasher, Wrentit, and Black-chinned Sparrow are literally everywhere in the California chaparral eco region. 
- As expected, the hiker community are fun people. It has been difficult for us to make any real friends so far but have made a few good acquaintances in the last several days. We are either hiking too fast or too slow to get into much of a group. That will probably change as we enter the Sierra later this spring. 
- Trail Magic abounds and my faith in at least a small portion of our species has improved a little. 
- I wonder if the maids at hotels that hikers frequent after long stretches on the trail just throw the wash cloths away instead of trying to launder them ...

How about an update to the 10 quiz questions from before we left:

1 - How many bird species will we see on the trip? 142 and counting. 
2 -  How many days in California will we NOT see a Raven? Only 1 so far. 
3 -  How many eBird Lists will Susan do on the trail? 83 to date
4 -  How many new California County birds will Susan get? 28 in SD and Riverside. It's not looking good for a new one in San Bernardino but she already has over 315. 
5 -  How many feet blisters will we get combined? None! Yet! Knock on wood!
6 -  How many steps will Bob record on his iPhone (includes all trail and camp/town steps)? 
747,514 as of right this minute as long as I don't get out of bed and hobble to the bathroom. 
7 -  What day (almost certainly in September) will we finish? TBD
8 -  How many days will we get rained/snowed on?  Three if we use the definition of rain while we are hiking. 
9 -  How many times will Susan eat ice cream? Three including the McDonalds caramel sundae yesterday afternoon. 
10- How many toenails will Susan lose? None yet but one is pretty black and held in place daily with duct tape. 

Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

We are definitely out of here tomorrow.