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.

The Neuroscience of the Blues

The Neuroscience of the Blues

A few nights ago, I enjoyed blues guitarist Dana Hubbard’s performance at a great house concert hosted by Mike and Wendy. Might I suggest listening and watching Dana playing on YouTube before going on with my writing? Music’s dynamic, not static – pay attention to Dana’s movements. Of course, the hands interact with the guitar. But, his entire body is involved. He’s also singing and speaking – which are two different actions. A lot is going on, and I will try to explain some neuroscience related to blues guitar.

So, I’ve got a front-row seat by happenstance. Mike announced that there was a great seat in front. We are all reluctant to sit in the front row, just like in elementary school! Mike called a few of us by name, and up we went to the best seat in the house. Dana is about five feet away. The first set is excellent, with some original, creative music. Dana has more than a trace of Robert Johnson in his music. So glad to be hearing some live music again.

I talked to Dana during the break; I got a couple of CDs. This whole evening has been great. Saw old friends from years ago. Some stories were joyful, others sad. A lot was swirling through my head as I sat down for the second set. I started thinking about what was going on in Dana’s brain to produce this wonderful music? What is the neuroscience of the blues? I was in a trance; someone asked me if I was falling asleep. I was in the opposite of a sleep state, trying to recall what was going on in Dana’s brain to produce this music. Let me step you through some of the details. It’s been a few years since I studied this; I’m sure I will make a few mistakes, but I will try to give you some idea of what’s involved in playing the blues guitar.

Here’s an image of Dana playing the guitar. I notice Dana’s complicated finger and hand movements; the complex dance between human and guitar. A neuroscientist calls this volitional (voluntary) motor control. Dana also was singing and speaking – a whole different set of neural processes. As he plays and sings, Dana listens and applies feedback. Dana’s using his auditory pathway to hear the music, and so is his audience. Finally, notice the smile on Dana’s face – emotions are also in play.

I’m self-taught in neuroscience. One of my favorite classes was Medical Neuroscience, taught by Professor Leonard White of Duke University. Here’s my textbook and my black notebook from the class. I spent four good months in 2013 studying Professor White’s lectures, the text, and my research notes. My notes attempt to capture a systems engineering view of the brain.

So, let me see what I can explain about the neuroscience of the blues. First, let’s consider how Dana plays the guitar – motor control. Check out the block diagram on the upper page of my notebook. Dana’s motor cortex is planning, initiating, and directing his hands and fingers to play the music. The Basal Ganglia is an input that helps figure out when to start moves. By the way, the Basal Ganglia is also a vital component of emotional response. See that sly smile on Dana’s face: Basal Ganglia feeding another part of the motor cortex, another set of separate but linked movements. The pathways are descending via efferent motor neurons; this means the information flow is from the brain to the body via nerve cells that control skeletal muscles. The Cerebellum provides a coordinated sense of movement; it feeds into the motor neuron network. Meanwhile, Dana’s brainstem keeps Dana’s posture upright on the stool.

There’s another essential piece to Dana’s music-making: Sensory-Motor Integration. Have a look at the diagram on the bottom page. We can start at the green box on the lower left; Internal & External Environment. Dana must hear what he’s playing; he wore a single earbud to listen to what he’s playing. Maybe his guitar is out of tune; perhaps he needs to adjust the equalizer, these call for some form of adapting to the external environment. Similarly, maybe Dana feels chilly; he would sense a change in his internal environment.

Dana’s senses pick up this information and send it up via ascending paths using afferent sensory neurons. The sensory info feeds to various areas of his brain. Sensory data is then coordinated and integrated across the brain. After all the information is combined, the motor components take action. For example, if his guitar needs tuning, then somatic motor control will fire various skeletal muscles. As a result, Dana adjusts his guitar. Dana’s body may make automatic visceral adjustments if the room is chilly, such as constricting blood vessels near the skin.

Let’s get back to volitional control; in other words, movements that we will our body to make. These movements arise in the primary motor cortex. A neuroscientist would express the activity of Dana’s fingers playing the guitar as fine control of his distal extremities. On the left side of the diagram, playing guitar stems from the primary motor cortex down the lateral corticospinal tract to motor neurons that control the fingers. Meanwhile, the medial pathway governs movements such as sitting. On the other side of the diagram, different types of activity are nonvolitional, for example, Dana’s genuine smile. Guess what; a whole separate pathway. I’ll skip those details except to say that these two sides get linked together in the little purple box – the Brainstem Reticular formation. Some speculate this is the area where consciousness arises. For entertainment, ask two neuroscientists to explain consciousness; sit back and watch the sparks fly.

Now, you might wonder what a cerebral cortex is? The word cortex derives from the Latin word for an outer layer, such as the bark of a tree. The outer layer folds up in our brain. It would be like a thin, medium-size pizza crust if we spread it out on a table. The cerebral cortex contains most of our higher-order functions that compose conscious thinking: movement, speech, singing, and vision come to mind (yes, the pun was intentional). In the upper left corner of the diagram, you can see a cartoon of the motor cortex. The motor cortex is a strip of the brain about the dimensions of your finger. The upper extremity (arm) is in the middle of the motor cortex. The motor cortex is contralateral; the left motor cortex controls the right side of the body. Since Dana uses both hands to play the guitar, he’s using both sides (hemispheres) of his brain to play.

Another critical point in the diagram, a single neuron can cause multiple muscles in the arm to either flex or relax (extend). Translated to neuro speak: A single action potential (AP) in a corticospinal neuron activates four muscles in a forelimb. We learn all this complex behavior over time. We can acquire new motor skills because our brain is dynamic, flexible, and plastic.

I covered just a few highlights of what’s happening when Dana plays the blues on this guitar. I want to discuss how the audience (and Dana) listen and react to the blues in a future piece. Meanwhile, I need to get up and use my motor cortex to get some exercise!