The desert miles..

image

A brief update from the Bake Shop Cafe in Idyllwild: sitting here in comfort with a hot chocolate and cookies it’s easy to forget the aches and blisters of the last few days. The weather has held a few surprises for us and resulted in some higher mileage days. After an idyllic night camped at San Ysidro Creek we had short hike into the tiny community of Warner Springs where we met up with our resupply box at the little post office. The supply box is a box we mail ahead to ourselves to mountain resorts, roadside diners, sometimes post offices, basically anywhere that will hold it for us where we pass through, places too small to resupply effectively from stores. We fill it in town with good lightweight food and things we’ll need, them mail it on to pick up when we are hungry and out of reach of town. In Warner Springs we camped out back of the village community centre. It’s part community centre, part museum for the cultural history of the first nation peoples that still live on reservations nearby. Staffed by volunteers through hiker season, they made WiFi and snacks available to us as well as much needed washing facilities.
In many ways it is the places and people who extend their kindness to us as we pass through that are most memorable. None more so than ‘Mikes place’. We only briefly saw the elusive Mike himself once, but couldn’t doubt his generosity. Little more than a small house with a scrubby yard in the desert, surrounded by run down trailers, outbuildings and various unidentifiable mechanical parts, on first approach it resembles a crime scene from the New Mexico based series ‘Breaking Bad’. Josh, a summer ‘caretaker’ employed by Mike to look after hikers passing through, showed us to the bunkhouse as a storm started to roll in off the hills. “we’ll be cosy in here” said Lisa, her face dropping slightly as I pointed to the roof, much of which was sufficiently missing as to allow a panoramic star gazing experience had the clouds not been rolling across.
Nonetheless, the bunkhouse provided an adequate resting place after we sat up late talking to Josh, round a roaring fire pit, along with one or two other hikers who sought retreat from the impending storm. Freeze-dried hiker meals were not needed that night as Josh kindly produced pizza after pizza from an amazing al fresco wood-fired pizza oven that had apparently been built and donated by a hiker last year.
The following day we set out early to do a long section in the heat of the new day.
Ever keen to learn about the flora and fauna of the areas we pass through, we spotted a fascinating bright red ‘ant’.

image

Glad I didn’t pick it up though: it turns out to be a female flightless wasp, locally referred to as a ‘cow-killer ant’, apparently because the sting is sufficiently painful to knock out a cow! Probably not true but not about to find out.
The following day the storm hadn’t entirely subsided and we walked in significantly gusty wind all day despite the hot sun. Not an issue during the day, but after almost twenty miles when we came to camp, getting the tent up proved to be a challenge. In sandy soils with little cover from the wind the tent was blown flat twice before we abandoned our attempts and agreed to hike down to the nearest road.
As darkness descended we still had several miles to go and the last section was road walk which was slightly nerve-wracking. We made it to the Paradise Café, a road-side diner which was closed by that time, just after eight and it promptly started to snow, hard. We huddled for an hour on their porch then
as the clouds passed over and a clear sky emerged we got the tent pitched in the rough ground out the back. We figured it would be great to be on the diner doorstep for breakfast and we could then hitch into Idyllwild. What we didn’t figure on was the temperature dropping below freezing. Our ultra-light cuben fibre tent has been great so far but one issue we have faced is condensation as the fabric is inherently water-proof. Combining that with sub- freezing temperatures meant ice, on the inside of the tent! We were very ready for a break and the hitch into Idyllwild meant home comforts for a day or two.

Mile 100

image

Leaving Julian was harder than expected, not just because it is always difficult to give up a comfy bed and easy access to good food, but because we’d heard that the section out of Julian would be the toughest yet. Without a water cache, that had been left by a kind trail volunteer, it would have been 33 waterless miles across three days over the San Felipe hills to Warner Springs. In the event it became one of our favourite trail sections so far. In a bid to beat the scorching heat we set out at 5pm and walked late into the evening. We were particularly fortunate that our decision coincided with a full moon and we sauntered through much of the ‘difficult’ section bathed in silvery moonlight.

The desert had already given us sight of many of the birds and animals that call it home: jack-rabbits, lizards, an (increasingly rare due to the drought) horned lizard, trapdoor spiders and several birds of prey. The morning was to give us another new experience, with a rattlesnake. To be honest it was the fastest yet I’d seen Lisa move under load. One minute she was out in front, striding away, next she was somewhere behind me! After a short time, and with just a little encouragement, the snake went his way and we went ours.

image

image

The following day brought us to our first significant milestone, one hundred trail miles covered. The celebration was brief as we still had a long way to go but it felt like a small achievement.

image

As we descended from the higher hills we found grass plains. This was cattle country. Although still quite arid, they supported a rich variety of grasslands from lush green to deep red. As we walked into the evening we were treated to a fantastic sunset and unusual cloud display.

image

image

It’s started..

image

We set off from the Mexican border at 7:21am on Saturday. The sun was already hot and our starts would get earlier and earlier over the coming days to combat the heat. Our hosts in San Diego had been wonderful. They fed us on Friday, helped with final advice and supplies, and drove us an hour from San Diego to the border in the morning.

As we set off initial impressions were dominated by pack weight and the ever-increasing glare of the sun and we traded thoughts about equipment choices, and what could be discarded, with the handful of other hikers who set off that morning.
This year the desert has benefitted from the change in weather patterns that comes with an El Nino shift and the desert shrubs are greener with new life than in most years. The Prickly Pear cacti have flowered with a range of colours from reds to deep purple, and there are small, fragile clusters of wild flowers emerging from the hard, dusty earth.
There has been very little shade available during the day and once the sun is high in the sky the temperature soars. We are in the Anza-Borrego desert canyons on the edge of the Mojave. The walking is anything but typical flat desert. Over the first five days we have climbed and descended ridge after ridge up to almost 6000ft. Only on the highest of those, Mount Laguna, did the desert scrub give way to alpine forest with towering pine trees with cones the size of small pineapples!

Our fitness is showing the first glimmers of improvement and although we’ve averaged a respectable 15 miles a day so far, yesterday we did 17 by midday (admittedly much downhill) to reach highway 78 and our first hitch into town to wash and resupply. The little mountain town of Julian (http://julian-california.com/) is a historic site and besides tourism it’s primary industry is apple orchards. In a bid to ensure we support the local economy on our way through it was only polite to purchase and devour generous helpings of deep dish apple pie with cinnamon ice-cream!
After a good night’s sleep we’ll continue into the San Felipe hills and the long climb over the next two or three days toward Warner Springs.

image

image

image

image

Hike prep & other distractions

image

Ok so not totally hike related but while we’re in San Diego doing our final prep for the hike we couldn’t resist the opportunity to take in some cultural sights too. The USS Midway, (above) in the main harbour is an imposing sight on the waterfront.
We came in from L.A. on the Amtrak last night after an eleven hour flight and several hours sitting around at Heathrow. It took an age to get out of L.A., much of which was just escaping the confines of the airport. Arriving after dark last night we weren’t able to get oriented until this morning and it took us a little while to figure out the necessary mechanics of getting around in a sprawling city whose transport options include: the Amtrak, the Coaster, the Sprinter, the Breeze, the Metrolink, the Rapid, the Rapid Express, the trolley (3 lines) and the good old fashioned bus!
We’ve been to the REI co-op today for some final supplies including gas, some trail meals and rather a lot of Clif bars, some of which we’ll be posting ahead to ourselves at Warner Springs. Then, final preparation done, it’ll be off to Pacific Beach to do the important pre-hike chillin’ on the board-walk with a beer and burrito!

A warm up walk..

So, we had this idea that it would be great to do a warm up walk to get us in the mood for some california sunshine on the PCT! We dropped the car in Ravenglass on the south-west Cumbria coast, then a train and bus later we found ourselves in Threlkeld in North Cumbria with a plan to walk back to the car over four days.
Day one was gorgeous with a deep blue sky, cotton-wool clouds and early Spring sunshine on our backs. The fells were streaming with meltwater and the becks were gurgling excitedly. As we got onto the high ridges we crossed from green hills onto soft snow that still decorated the crags and gullies. Sunnies were the order of the day as the hot sun reflected off the white tops.
As we came off the ridge and down Sticks Pass towards Helvellyn hostel the more numerous clouds now scudded hurriedly across the sky hinting at what day two would bring.
We woke to the wind whipping at the eaves above the window and knew it would be a very different day. So much for california sun! By the time we were an hour in we were in full waterproofs being beaten back by a fierce wind and driving rain. As we ascended to meet the freezing point the rain turned to sleet then snow, and the spray off Grisedale Tarn was being whipped metres into the air. It really was a case of two steps forward and one back. On several occasions it was as much as we could do to stay upright. A couple descending passed us with a black labrador. A breed usually renowned for being all tails and tongues, even he looked soaked through and decidedly unnerved at the challenge of keeping all four paws on the ground.
We steady climbed over Grisedale Hause and down again, still fighting wind and rain, into Grasmere. There has to be a silver-lining on a wet day so we found ourselves tucked into a warm, cosy tea shop with hot chocolate, muffins and scones, before the last hour in the rain to Langdale hostel.

image

image

image

image