WHERE: Mexican border (Campo) — Warner Springs: California, USA
WHEN: March–August, 2018
WHO: Karma & Scott
OBJECTIVE: Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hike
DISTANCE: 0 – 109 mi (0 – 176 km)
Our Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hike has finally started! After a few days in San Diego getting gear and food drops sorted, Scott and I arrived at the southern terminus of the PCT at sunrise on March 1. We kissed the ice-covered monument by the Mexican border and set out on our long journey north towards Canada.
The first 1000 km or so (700 miles) goes through the high desert of Southern California. I know most people say this, but the desert so far has been very different from what we expected. More varying terrain, very cool rock formations, plenty of small wildlife and amazing vistas. The weather was fantastic too! Sunny and pleasantly warm, only around 20C.
Many people push for Lake Morena on day one due to the water situation, but we wanted to be kind to our bodies and carried enough water (6.5L!!!) to dry camp at the Hauser Creek (already dry), a 15.3-mile first day. Hard to stop so early in the day, but it will pay off in the end. Stopped into the Lake Morena campground the next day to fill up on water for the next stretch.
Pushed a bit further on day two, a 17.3-mile day to Cibbets Flat Campground. Apparently PCT hikers camp for free, and we wanted to drop off the ridge for the night due to pending weather. We had talked to the ranger at Boulder Oaks who warned of a storm that is supposed to hit overnight. Lots of rain and snow as low as in Mount Laguna. But we still enjoyed another nice and sunny day. We felt good, despite a few aches here and there. Still getting our trail legs.
Well, it was another cold night, down to freezing, but the storm did not seem to hit us… yet. But we met a section hiker who said the 4 Brits and 2 Americans who started the day the before us all dropped off trail today! Too cold and not properly prepared. Hmm… well, it is March and technically still winter.
We arrived in Mount Laguna one day ahead of schedule.
The PCT is a pretty fast trail, being graded for mule trains and horses. Lots of switchbacks make it so don’t really notice you are climbing. The storm that did not hit last night left a cold, gray and drizzly day behind though, we walked in our rain gear all day, climbing up to Mount Laguna (1798m).
We got here just after lunch, 4 degrees C and raining… and it is supposed to keep raining and drop down to -4C overnight. We checked the weather report and by tomorrow it should clear, still be cold, but at least not wet. So we decided to get a room for the night to dry out our gear. We have two long days in the mountains waiting, so a hot shower and a good nights sleep will be really nice.
We also needed to do a resupply here, whoa… expensive! Mount Laguna is a bit of a tourist trap… Glad we sent a food box to the next stop.
We hiked out of Mount Laguna in about 5cm fresh snow on the ground and -4C. Whiteout at first but soon the sun burned through the clouds and presented a pretty magical winter day hike down the mountain towards the desert. Yeah, snow one minute and desert the next. Gotta love the PCT.
We filtered up 5L of water each at the Sunrise trailhead to make it over to the desert valley to the next water, a water cache at Scissors crossing about lunch the following day. We dry-camped up on a beautiful ridge along the way sunset and sunrise views in both directions, parmesan, and garlic mashed potatoes for dinner mmm living the dream.
We had a really nice day walking across the Anza-Borrego Desert Wilderness area. Since we are so early in the season the desert temperatures have been quite modest during the days and pleasant to hike in. Locals seem very happy to see us too, usually noting that we are among the first PCT hikers they have seen for the season. Nice and quiet on the trail, we haven’t really met any other thru-hikers yet.
The Scissors Crossing water cache was a welcome sight and really well stocked. We were the first to sign the 2018 PCT logbook there.
A cache is basically a stash of water the locals maintain on the trail to help with the water logistics on the trail through the dryer section in the desert. Such a phenomenal service for us hikers! Sometimes you also find trail magic, like snacks or drinks placed on trail, absolutely wonderful surprises to come across!
It still gets dark kind of early, after six it is dark, and then gets cold so we just tuck in for the night, sound asleep by eight, lol.
We love being on trail! Initially, I had been a bit concerned about the desert, but water logistics aside, it is actually a pretty remarkable experience. It is really beautiful here! Much more plant and wildlife than you think. Cactus and desert plants everywhere are budding and about to bloom. A few weeks from now it is probably going to be quite beautiful to see, but also much hotter of course.
We kept sidling around the mountain range all day to finally drop down to the valley floor by the very end of the day. The trail is graded for horses and mule trains, so they keep the grade fairly easy, but these looong switchbacks really mess with your head. Takes ages to get anywhere sometimes! We passed the 100-mile mark at the end of the day though so we are making progress.
After a stop at the Third Gate water cache, we headed off towards Warner Springs to get our next resupply box of food.
A highlight on the trail into town was Eagle Rock. Normally you think, oh sure, maybe with a bit of imagination and if I squint I can see what they mean… but no, this rock formation actually really looks like a huge eagle!
Well in Warner Springs we actually met a few more PCT hikers. We also met a few elderly local guys who chatted with us for a while, sharing some wisdom and tall tales alike. Settling into the trail life.
We are off towards Idyllwild next, a 7-day stretch… so, until then!