Category: California

Day 4 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Day 4 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

We set off from our base near Julian on a cold, clear morning. The temperature when we left was a brisk 27 degrees. We did our usual car shuttle machinations and launched from Sunrise Trailhead; bound for Scissors Crossing. As you can see, we are wearing warm clothes as we launched north.

We are hiking 18 miles today. The start and the end of the hike are within the boundaries of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In the middle section, we will be walking in an area controlled by the Bureau of Land Management. A quick tip to other hikers, to leave a car at Sunrise trailhead in the state park requires a day use fee. Fortunately, there was an app that let you pay online. Unfortunately, I had no cellphone service. Fortunately, Mike did have service and was able to get this taken care off.

We saw some interesting plants as we made our way up the trail. The photos below show a plant that we became familiar with: Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei). It throws up a tall flower stalk (the botanical term is a scape) and is covered with flowers. I added an observation of Chaparral Yucca on iNaturalist ; another naturalist confirmed my identification. I have oodles of nature photos to work through. My methodology is to first put them on iNaturalist and then (hopefully) write about the flora and fauna of this section of the PCT

Well, back to hiking. The trail was more down than up today. As we pressed on, we crossed a few roads and encountered just a few other hikers; mainly thru hikers. We started to see signs of civilization; the middle photo below shows a homestead. The mountains beyond are the San Felipe Hills, we were to know them much better tomorrow, We were heading into the valley, our car was near the base of the hills.

I’m still learning about the ecology of the area but my guess is that we transitioned from chaparral to desert at some point. One delight was seeing the cactus start to bloom. My favorite cactus of the day was flowering Engelmann’s Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) The photo’s show one example, look closely at the flower and you’ll see a bee working the bloom over. There’s pollen scattered around the flower; it was good to see a pollinator at work.

I had an internal transition; from feeling decent to quite nauseous. I’m sure that my churning guts didn’t improve my personality. I let Mike know and he paced me out. (Mike – thanks for putting up with me) When we got to Julian, I bought a six pack of diet ginger ale. I had one and felt better. A bit later I drank another. The next morning I still wasn’t 100%. Mike had great advice, bring ginger ale along in my pack. That was sage advice, it helped get my guts settled. On the way out, at Scissors Crossing, we investigated the water cache, It was large and well-organized. (We had seen an unmaintained water cache the previous day; the insects and other small critters would have made for an interesting nature study).

After getting to town and obtaining ginger ale, I spotted the Julian library. Those who know me can guess that I had to pay a visit; I am active with two Friends of the Library groups in Lake Forest Park, WA and Shoreline, WA. The Friends of the Julian Library had an entire room of books for sale. Yes, a few books went home with me. I had a great time chatting with Caroline about books and hiking.

After that, pizza and salad, shower, gear check for tomorrow’s long day and sleep.

Day 3 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Day 3 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Our third day on the PCT. Today is going to be an easy 17 miles. We have the morning rituals figured out; we’re up at Mount Laguna recreation area. Today, we will cross into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; a natural area that I’ve wanted to explore for years.

Mike leading the way out of Mount Laguna

You might be curious why Mike’s often in the lead. The answer is pretty simple; I take a lot of nature photos, So, it’s a lot easier for me to get some images and catch up rather than slow both of us down. Plus, Mike sets a good pace; we average about a 2.5 mile per hour (4 km per hour) pace. Not too bad for a couple of senior citizens – we are both young at heart. We are up high, about 5700 feet (1740 m.), walking through a low oak forest.

After a couple of miles, we break into open terrain and pass the PCT 50 mile mark. We are walking on some gentle ridges, very pleasant terrain. I feel like I could walk all day – in fact, I did walk all day.

We walked up to the Pioneer Mail Picnic site (mile 53) and then proceeded on a closed section of the old Sunset highway and then back onto trail. There were some elaborate memorials up here. The views down to the desert floor several thousand feet below us are stunning. We were passing through here around noon, we tended to eat and hike rather than tale long breaks.

We hiked on north along the edge of a ridge, it was some great walking. The geology was also interesting. In the area of the memorial (see photos above) the rock looked metamorphic, perhaps schist? (PS – stop now if you don’t give a schist…) A bit further north we were walking through weathered granitic rock. Gosh, wish I knew a bit more geology. So much science, so little time. I did find a nice website about the flora of the PCT in this area: The Flora of the PCT A7 Pioneer Mail Picnic Area to Sunrise parking area My next endeavor once I finish writng about the hiking is to record my observations on iNaturalist. After that, I hope to write up what I saw each day in some detail – stand by for more….

As we made our way north, we entered Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I would describe the terrain we hiked through as chaparral rather than desert. You can get a look at this via my rather poor attempt at a selfie. Another comment, I am well protected from the sun. I tried out a Black Diamond Sun Hoodie on this trip, it seemed to live up to its advertised UPF 50 protection. I’m of Irish ancestry I can (and have) got sunburn in the shade. I have SPF50 sunscreen along with SPF 30 lip balm and my trusty RayBan shades. I also wear OR sun gloves. All this worked well for me during the six days of hiking.

After a few more miles of fairly flat tramping, we made it to the car we left at Sunrise Trailhead. We backtracked to Mount Laguna to get the other car and then headed over some twisty roads to the town of Julian, which was our new base for the next 3 days of adventure. We stayed a few miles out of town at the Apple Tree Inn. The room was quite nice. A great feature to me was proximity to good food, here’s a review of Wynola Pizza that I wrote:

“For 3 days, I was hiking the PCT 8 to 10 hours a day and got to my hotel hungry. I’d stroll over to Wynola Pizza and eat an entire vegan pizza every evening. It was delicious. Usually had a slice of apple pie as well. Great service and there was live music one night. Highly recommended.”

Mike also enjoyed this place but not quite as much as I did. I think it might be an engineering trait; once you find optimal food then there’s no need to change! After eating, we headed into Julian for a quick resupply. It’s a good hiker town, the staff at the store were very nice and the prices were reasonable. We also did a quick recon of Scissors Crossing, which was our starting point for tomorrow, Day 4 of Section A

Day 2 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Day 2 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

We woke up at 5 AM today, made coffee, had a light breakfast and we were out the door by 6 AM. That was to be our routine for the rest of the hike. Today’s leg is from Lake Morena to Desert View (Mount Laguna), about 22 miles. We set out for Mount Laguna in both cars; parking one vehicle at Desert View picnic area and then driving back to the PCT trailhead near Lake Morena State Park. We start out briskly, savoring the cool temperatures.

Yet another sign, next to someone’s house

We are hiking through a relatively flat section that’s next to private land. The next few miles we are going over a small hill. Later in the day, we’ll be gaining some more serious elevation. On the other hand, none of the PCT is very steep – it’s designed for horses and humans. Another thing that strikes me is how green the hills are along the trail.

Looking down on the PCT – we have a mountain to climb ahead

Crossing Under Old Highway 80

We hit Boulder Oaks campground after about six miles; a nice place for a snack and there’s water available. We talk to some fellow hikers: a wife and husband originally from Bellingham, Washington. They have decided to thru-hike the trail and then they will see where life leads them. I hope to see them in the North Cascades this fall.

Leaving the interstate behind and heading upward

We cross under Interstate 8 – the main highway into San Diego from the east. After that, we start a gentle climb upwards. The next 16 miles were to be in wilderness, much nicer hiking. We take a few breaks in the shade, there’s some large manzanita along the trail.

Mike and manzanita – the bark of this tree is like mahogany

We head upward and cross a minor road. On the side, I saw my first and only rattlesnake of the trip. It was a flattened juvenile.

Juvenile rattlesnake – dead on road

Onward and upward we go. We are in a different terrain and I spot some flowers that are a favorite of mine. They are a species of paintbrush (genus Castilleja). As many of my hiking friend know, I stop early and often for nature photos. I will have a separate post on my natural observations along this Section of the trail.

Orange paintbrush (genus Castilleja)

We see some hikers below us; they are swimming in Kitchen Creek. Seems like a nice idea but it would involve a hike down and a climb up again. We decide that we’ll leave that creek to the youngsters down below. Onward and upward. We reach the Fred Canyon trailhead, which is the turnoff to the Cibbets Flat campground. We had contemplated this as a lunch spot. Lo and behold, there’s some trail magic here! A couple of families set up here with a nice sunshade. They gave us lunch and cold drinks. It was mighty nice. We talked with them and some of the other hikers. We had some wind, at one point the sunshade almost went airborne.

Trail Magic 🙂

Well, off we go towards Mount Laguna. We have some fine walking, it was mainly a gentle upward grade. Eventually, we were in a pine forest. They looked like Ponderosa Pines to me but later Mike figured out they were Jeffery Pines. These trees provided some nice shade. The last few miles were through the forest and we came out at the car.

I was a hungry hiker! We visited the Mount Laguna store where I bought a few snacks. The prices were fairly steep here so I just bought a snack. Next, we drove over to the Pine House Café. The people running it were French – food was delicious. I also had room for a substantial slab of apple pie. After that, back to get the second car and over to the hotel.

For the day, we had hiked more than 22 miles with roughly 4000 feet of elevation gain. A pretty good day of hiking with more to come. Tomorrow would be a little easier day: about 17 miles from Desert View (Mount Laguna) to Sunrise Trailhead.

Day 1 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Day 1 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

I hiked Section A of the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California with my friend Mike in April, 2022. We started at the US-Mexican border on 8 April 2022. We hiked about 110 miles in six days on some interesting desert terrain. Here’s the plan:

  1. Campo to Lake Morena – 20 miles
  2. Lake Morena to Desert View (Mount Laguna) – 22 miles
  3. Desert View (Mount Laguna) to Sunrise Trailhead – 17 miles
  4. Sunrise Trailhead to Scissors Crossing – 18 miles
  5. Scissors Crossing to Montezuma Valley Road 23.5 miles
  6. Montezuma Valley Road to Warner Springs 8 miles (Leg 8)

Mike did our route planning. A book that he used was Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California: Section Hiking from Campo to Tuolumne Meadows by Shawnté Salabert. I found the trip descriptions very useful in this book.

Setting Off
We did a car shuttle every day, leapfrogging up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). We placed my 4Runner at Lake Morena, where the PCT comes out near the state park. We then drove Mike’s rental car back to Campo, parking at the Camp Lockett Event and Equestrian Facility (CLEEF) near the PCT hikers campsite. I used my Garmin InReach to let Mary Ellen know we were starting our hike. It was great to see her respond, it made us both happy we had two-way messaging as needed. I’m new to this technology, it worked well over the six-day trip.

We kibitzed with a couple of hikers then walked about ⅓ of a mile to the monument marking the southern terminus start of the PCT at the US-Mexico border. Fellow hikers snapped a photo of us. I took another photo that shows the border wall stretching into the distance. Next, we talked to two folks from the PCTA – they were handing out tags for thru hikers. Signed the log book and headed north.

Mike and I at the PCT Southern terminus
The US-Mexican border

Hiking was easy in the cool morning. We encounter a number of PCT thru-hikers; they plan to walk the entire 2650 miles (4270 km) of the trail. In comparison to these ultra-hikers, we are sprinters. Mike and I are hiking about 4% of the PCT in the next six days. I realized that only about 1 in 5 of the thru-hikers we see starting near Mexico will make it to Canada. (A range of 14% to 34% of thru-hikers made it, based on a 7 year survey by thru-hiker “Halfway Anywhere”   It’s great to talk to these intrepid souls. There were people from around the US and Europe, especially Germany.

We are heading across rather a green desert chaparral as Mike pointed out to me. So, what is Chaparral? According to the California Chaparral Institute:

“Chaparral is California’s most extensive, native plant community, dominating foothills and mountain slopes throughout most of the state. …. Chaparral is a semi-arid, shrub dominated association of sclerophyllous (hard-leaved), woody plants shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (summer drought, mild, wet winters), and infrequent fires (with natural intervals between fires being 30 to 150 years or more).”

So, I have a new area of nature to learn about. I’ll try to write up something of my natural observations of the Chaparral I saw along the PCT in a separate post.

I am pleased to see my first yucca coming into bloom.  There’s Mike standing next to a yucca to provide scale. When this species of yucca is in full bloom, the flowering stalk (scape) is about 10 feet tall. It’s covered with cream-colored flowers. We saw many more yuccas in bloom on our next six days of hiking; they never failed to amaze me.

Yucca in bloom

As we sauntered along, we came across many signs telling us how far to the northern terminus (and how far we had journeyed).

We made it 3 miles, only 17 more for today

Manzanita trees made for a nice place for a break. As we moved towards noontime, it started to heat up. We made sure to keep up with our nutrition and hydration.

Mike under a welcoming manzanita tree

I caused us to add a bonus mile and a half as we descended into Hauser Canyon at about 12 miles into our day. We were on a road and I missed an important turn. I was annoyed with myself because I had just checked our location using the FarOut (formerly Guthooks) app of the PCT. 

We had a little challenge near the end of the hike: climbing out of Hauser Canyon on a sunny, warm afternoon. We were climbing over the ridge shown in the photo.

From Hauser Canyon, we climbed up and over this ridge

“The climb out of Hauser Canyon is serious business – you face over 1000 feet of elevation gain in about 1.5 miles. Dehydrated, overheated, and underprepared hikers are rescued near here every single years sadly, one hiker died after making the grueling climb in 2014, Consider timing your ascent for a cooler time of day, make sure you’re hydrated and ensure that you eat enough to keep your motor running.” Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California by Shawnté Salabert

We made it over the ridge. I did have to stop for a rest in some shade part way up. I could see the heat was having an effect on me, my heart rate kept jumping above 150. We found some shade and Mike had good advice to put my feet up. After I felt rested, I gave it five more minutes to be sure I was good. 

We sauntered the remaining four miles or so into Lake Morena State Park. I sent a message to Mary Ellen that we were done with our hike. We dumped our gear in my 4Runner. Next, we had a great meal at the nearby Oak Shores Malt Shop. We headed south to Campo to get Mike’s car and then back to our motel as it got dark.

I recorded our day using Gaia navigation software which indicated we had done 17 miles with about 800 feet of elevation gain. Our distance had to be more than 20 miles and our elevation gain was more than 800 feet. After the hike, I did a route plan using FarOut software. It showed the distance to be 20 miles with over 3000 feet of elevation gain.

I believe these numbers as they  match the guidebook that Mike had. I am not sure what caused the discrepancy with Gaia. I carried my phone in the back of my pack in an outer zippered compartment. Anyway, lesson learned – I need to learn a bit more on how to work with Gaia. I also made a track with the Garmin InReach.

Okay, that’s the end of Day 1. Next post will be Day 2, Lake Morena to Desert View (Mount Laguna) – 22 miles