Here we go on the first post of my recap of my experience on the Pacific Crest Trail. It's been nearly a year since I started, and I didn't keep records of where I stayed as well as on the AT, so this recap will probably be a bit less detailed than that one (which might be a good thing).
Here's the obligatory "before" photo:
Across the wall behind me is Mexico. My shirt is clean, my pack's color is vivid, and my face is clean-shaven. None of those things would be true for very long on this hike. I had arrived at the border at around 6:30 PM, so I didn't plan to go very far that evening. I passed the first mile-marker on my way to the small town near the trailhead:
I had food with me, but no water. The store owner (because the town was little more than a convenience store) made me buy water. Since Southern California is mostly a desert, I felt it was the best idea to go along with it. I walked a bit longer (I made maybe about three miles on the first evening), found a place to set up my hammock, made supper and went to bed.
The next day really showed the rigors of desert hiking. With the sun beating down and hardly any shade, it wasn't long before things got really hot. I heard my first rattlesnake in bushes nearby, but I just kept trudging on. At lunchtime, though, I found a bit of shade at the bottom of a hill near a flowing stream. There was another hiker there with the trail name Hikeaholic. He had hiked the PCT before and had even been a maintainer of the trail in Washington, and he was quite encouraging about my chances. After lunch, we parted ways, and I went on to the Lake Morena campsite for the first day of what is known as the Kickoff.
The Kickoff is an annual event where many of the northbound hikers (which is just about everyone on the PCT) get together. Gear companies show up along with trail "alumni" who want to re-live the fun and scare the newbies. There were a few hundred tents set up in the campsite by the evening, and the next morning I thought that I had seen enough. I go hiking to avoid crowds of that size, so I started down the trail in the cool of the morning.
I was on my own for most of the day, but I met two couples that I would later hike with for long distances: Raven and Lovebird, and Funyan and Meow-Meow. Of course, they didn't have their trail names at that point, but after a while it becomes more natural to refer to people by their trail names than their actual names. At the end of the day, I set up camp just above a dry creek bed with another person with whom I would hike most of Southern California: a tall guy who got the trail name Garby from his ability to clean everyone's plates like a garbage disposal.
The next day actually had some pine forest, which was a bit of a surprise. I enjoyed the shade, but it didn't last long, and eventually I was back in the sun. I ended the day in a campsite that was the last bit of green on the map for many miles. I had gotten there minutes after Lovebird, Raven, and Garby. There was another person that I hadn't met before, who introduced himself as Swope. I told the group that my intention was to stay at the campsite so that I could be sure to find a place to hang my hammock. I very quickly regretted it as Swope announced that that made us hiking buddies, because he was staying there as well.
I could tell that Swope was a little off, and as the evening went on, it became even more clear. He talked a mile a minute about some very strange topics, he clearly hadn't been long-distance hiking before, and he had a massive pack (around 50 pounds) whose weight he had reduced from about 80 pounds the day before. He even had a satellite phone with him – pretty strange for someone who wanted to get away from civilization. Eventually, I had all that I could take and escaped to my hammock for some shuteye. (Sorry Swope if you ever read this. Some people are just not natural hiking companions.) Swope got out of camp ahead of me the next morning, but given his huge pack, I had no trouble passing him very quickly.
The hiking was turning out to be slightly different than I had expected. When I think of the desert, I imagine really sandy areas with almost no vegetation. This was fairly rocky with shrubs and brushy trees. Desert is actually a misnomer: the ecosystem is known as chaparral. It was still hot, though, and when I got to a water tank at around noon, I decided to wait out the sun for a while. While I was waiting, I met Skinny D. We talked for a while, and then she went on ahead of me.
We met again at Scissors Crossing – an awkward intersection of roads – where trail angels had left water, energy drinks, beer, and even a pie. It was supper time, so we ate supper and then had the pie for desert. Skinny D went a bit farther, but I found some trees near a dried creek bed, and hung out there. It was surprisingly cold over night – the lack of moisture in the air causes that to happen – and I was glad to get moving the next morning so that I could get warm.
That day highlighted another big difference between the PCT and the AT. The whole day was spent going over one big hill. On the AT, the hills come thick and fast, but on the PCT they are much more gradual. The net effect is that you spend a long time going up and then a long time going down. We finished the day just past mile 100, where I met up with many of the people I had met earlier as well as two new ones: Liz and Annie. Annie had terrible blisters, but she was pushing through the pain, which eventually led to her trail name "Push".
It was only about 7 miles to the first trail town – Warner Springs. There's really not much more to the town than a small resort and a gas-station convenience store, where I picked up my first resupply.
After getting to Warner Springs nice and early, I got a room at the resort with Garby, and we had a lot of fun there with Raven and Lovebird as well. While we were eating at the pub, a bedraggled-looking Swope walked in. He was clearly the worse for wear, and had only hiked as far as Scissors Crossing (meaning that he had somehow gotten a day behind me despite starting at the same time two days earlier). He then hitchhiked to Warner Springs and was intending to get a ride back to Scissors Crossing and return to Warner Springs by running. It was, as always, an unconventional approach. It was the last I would see of him, but I did hear that he made it farther than I had expected (though I don't know if he finished).
Later that night, the four of us went for a dip in the hot pool that is fed by the hot springs. It's debatable whether it hurt or helped our hiking, but it was nice and relaxing.
There will be fewer characters to introduce, so hopefully I can write about more than one section. The trail goes from chaparral to mountains and back, and we have a snow storm in the mountains and a rain storm in the desert. Hopefully I'll be able to get to the part where I get massively lost by walking down the wrong mountain ridge. That was fun.