Category: PCT

Practical SoCal PCT Section Hiker Guide

Practical SoCal PCT Section Hiker Guide

I found Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California: Section Hiking from Campo to Tuolumne Meadows by Shawnté Salabert a helpful reference while hiking 110 miles of California Section A of the PCT in April 2022. The author starts with a 60-page introduction covering the history and logistics of hiking the 943 miles of the Southern California PCT. It’s worth reading, even for experienced hikers. 

The following ten chapters, each roughly 60 pages, describe the sections that comprise the Southern California PCT. In our April 2022 six-day hike of Section A (from Campo to Warner Springs), I found it helpful to read the description before the day’s hike. Here’s one great example: “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 year; 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.” I can attest to the truth of those words (See Day 1 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022).

The maps were effective for planning. Each chapter had an overall map that divided the section into legs based on distance and elevation.

The author suggested itineraries of varying lengths and times to cover an entire section. For example, she recommended trips of 7 to 9 days to walk from Campo to Warner Springs. Being a little crazy, we did this in six days; however, we used her legs for planning. Each leg had its maps, which I appreciated. While writing in my blog about the adventure from Campo to Warner Springs, the chapter photos and maps refreshed my memory. 

The author’s description of the section hikes of the Sierra, from Cottonwood Pass to Tuolumne Meadows, also matches my memory of my past tramping in this region. The book finishes with some valuable appendices, especially the description of trail towns and services.

Recommend this book for section hikers in Southern California; my rating is 4.5 stars. I read the paperback book but subsequently bought and reviewed the Kindle version. 

Day 6 Hiking and Summary of PCT Section A SoCal April 2022

Day 6 Hiking and Summary of PCT Section A SoCal April 2022

Our last day of section hiking was an easy eight miles. We’re well-practiced in the morning routine and on the way to the trail near dawn. On the way, we encounter a hiker and give her a ride to Ranchita. We learn that she’s from Denmark and is hiking 700 miles of the PCT. She and I posed with the Ranchita Yeti.

Mike and I hit the Montezuma Valley trailhead and set off for Warner Springs on a cold and clear morning. We had an exciting wildlife encounter: grazing cattle. These bovines didn’t seem to want us in their area. Mike led the way as we navigated the herd without incident.

In the distance, we started to see Eagle Rock, a prominent feature alongside the trail. We got here early and had the rock to ourselves and the lizards for a pleasant 15 minutes. We met several groups day hiking to Eagle Rock from Warner Springs as we walked out.

We talked a few minutes with a thru-hiker with the trail name Incline. He’s hiking the trail with his dogs; his wife has been accompanying him in an RV. I suggested a trail name for his wife: Recline.

Mike and I made it to Warner Springs at about 1030. There wasn’t must to see here; everything was closed. We were happy to complete our hike as planned. Our walk covered about 4% of the PCT (110/2650). Here’s a summary:

DateDayStartFinshMilesGain (ft)Loss (ft)
4/8/20221CampoLake Morena County Park2031602990
4/9/20222Lake MorenaDesert View (Mount Laguna)22.647501880
4/10/20223Desert View (Mount Laguna)Sunrise Trailhead16.926103560
4/11/20224Sunrise TrailheadScissors Crossing17.815404280
4/12/20225Scissors CrossingMontezuma Valley Road23.936702480
4/13/20226Montezuma Valley RoadWarner Springs8.312001600
Total 109.51693016790
Summary of PCT California Section A Hike – Miles, Gain and Loss are from Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California by Shawntee Salabert

Another way to visualize this section hike is to look at a map. The map on the right shows the entire PCT through California, Oregon, and Washington. My fingers cover the section of California that we did.

Our next section hike will be Oregon Section A in June 2022, covering 82 miles in 4 days. We will start at the California border.

Mike and I split in Warner Springs; he would explore more of Southern California with his car. I headed over to visit my nephew at Cal State San Marcos. I ate several burritos while we talked and then got a campus tour. After that, pedal to the metal for the drive north to Seattle.

Day 5 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

Day 5 Hiking PCT Section A SoCal April, 2022

We started our longest hike today, close to 24 miles. It’s a fair distance, but Mike and I feel dialed in after doing 77 miles in the previous four days. The weather was cold and windy as we emerged. We set out from our hotel and placed our vehicles. Along the way, we picked up a thru-hiker from near Austin, Texas. He had spent a miserable night; his tent had nearly blown down. We got him into Julian and headed back to Scissors Crossing.

We launched out geared up for cold and windy conditions. The sky was gray as we climbed up the San Felipe Hills. The first mile is a bit steep but not too demanding. A rainbow makes the hiking pleasant; it persisted for the next 45 minutes. Our hiking is through the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for the next ten miles.

We head onward and upward through a desert garden. There are many cacti and other plants in bloom. It’s some beautiful botanizing, but we keep moving. It does take relentless forward progress to rack up 24 miles.

I notice a red, fuzzy insect, like a crawling bumblebee, as I’m sitting. It’s called a velvet ant, actually a parasitic wasp Genus Dasymutilla. I have observed a velvet ant only once before. Their bright color lets other animals know to avoid them; they have an excruciating sting. The sting of a velvet ant is classed as a 3 on the Schmidt sting pain index. Let me say that I decided it was a good time to stand up and shake out my pants and pack!

The rest of this hike was a bit of a blur. We went up for a while more. Next, we headed down for six or seven miles of afternoon hiking down a forested canyon. I was in the groove; I just put one foot in front of the other. Finished up at Barrel Springs, got our cars, and headed back to Julian for yet another delicious pizza and a good night’s rest. Tomorrow will be an easy day of about 8 miles into Warner Springs.

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.