Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Whitewater River to Highway 18 near Big Bear City - May 15 to 18th 2005

This may be the hardest but most satisfying section so far. We walked farther, 46 miles, than before and covered dramatic territory. It was 100 degrees when Donna dropped us off just east of the Whitewater River. It was flowing almost as well as it had been a month before. Section hiking has its plus’s and minus’s. The minus in this case was a difficult crossing a mile up river to get to the PCT. It took us an hour and a half to do it. The riverbed is sand filled with millions of rounded stones. One of which, the size of a bowling ball, fell out of a wall I brushed against and nearly crushed my foot. It was an obstacle course. We met our first through hikers on west side of the river after removing our boots, putting on sandals, and fording it. It is scary because the current is so strong. Bill lost his only bandana in the river. I need to take two next time. Ray left one of his water bottles somewhere as well which affected how we tanked up along the way. One of the hikers had taken off his clothes and sat right down in a tributary to take a bath. A pair of hikers, one from Israel, sat in the meager shade of a bush for a hot meal. They were surprised to see us. Going north from this point is like crossing a swamp. The heavy rain has turned much of the trail into a river. Fortunately 4 X 4 posts give the general direction of the trail. One last ford back to the east of the Whitewater started our trip over to Mission Creek. Ray already felt sapped by the heat and we had 7 miles to go. It is quite a roller coaster in this area. I have noticed that many of heads of canyons hereabouts end in an earthen damn; appearing manmade by nature, like a spillway. The most dramatic is Coon Creek Jump-off on the second day. This area is still all desert and plenty hot. Some good views to the south though. The tip to Mission Creek took us a long time and we arrived near the river at 6:40 PM. Just enough time to pitch camp before dark. A hiker that looked like an adult boy scout passed through camp. We had seen him eating and bathing earlier covered in tattoos, a bit strange. The river was quite loud and I remarked to Bill that I hoped they turned it off so we could get some sleep. We ineffectually hung our food in low trees for the night after a very hearty dinner.

The next day was overcast most of the day but I sweat like crazy as it became muggy. Mission Creek goes up, up forever or about 12 miles which seemed like forever. No big ups or downs. Someone has put trees across all the crossings to keep you out of the water , there are over 27, which slowed us down considerably. Only Ray got wet. Our first goal was the South and Fork confluence of Mission Creek which was the longest five miles I have ever hiked. Lots of through hikers passed us and then we passed them when they stopped for a hot lunch. Several of the women (thirty percent of all hikers) were wearing gossamer wraparounds which reminded me of Gauguin’s Samoan women. A little like Hippies. One of them was using couscous an ingredient I will add it to my trail meals in the future. One subject of constant conversation on these trips in what we will eat; especially for lunch. Bill wants to get away from the bagel to the pita for a variety of fillings. I like that. I have added pink salmon in packets for dinner and it is a great success. It was a long day and the only person handling it well was Bill. I got really tired but kept trudging on. Most of this trip is treeless. We saw 8 horny toads, a hundred coal black lizards and two racers, one trying to kill a lizard, and the lizard got away. We stopped short of Mission Creek camp for dinner. The theory being that we could avoid bears if we cooked in another area than we slept. It is only a theory weakened by the fact that at rest we were surrounded by cooking hikers. This area takes you far away from civilization. Perhaps as far as we have been since northern San Diego. One of the hikers that passed us had a dog named Buddy. He wore booties covered in Duct Tape. The hiker had no walking sticks. When asked how it was to walk with out sticks he said, “I wouldn’t know I have never used them”, makes sense.

We were in the seasonal “herd” of through hikers here. Usually we are practically alone on our trips. It was a pleasure to meet so many birds of a feather: young and old sharing the same dream. Reaching the tree line is always a pleasure. It is prettier and cooler. There are some big grades here before camp. Ray fell behind but not too far. We left messages that he never saw but he caught up to us in camp quickly. We gave up trying to put up our food in the trees and put it in our tents as bait. It is very hard to tie a stone to a rock and throw it accurately. My rear tent pole snapped in half which makes for an ugly tent. There were many hikers there but we just said hi and went to bed. It got down to about 40 degrees and my new sleeping bag kept me warm.

We went the wrong way out of Mission Creek Camp for about a ¼ a mile along with a lady. Finally we went up and over a hill north of camp and found my water cache from last October still in good shape. We were full up so I left them by the trail. We ran into snow on the north side of the mountain. Mainly drifts of 10 to 100 feet covering the trail. It was pretty soft but we stayed in the footsteps of those ahead of us. One of the disks on my poles vanished recently so it was funny to see that pole plunging all the down into the snow and the other a few inches. We took a break with a pair of hikers we camped with later. Nice people. The women had been saved, she said, by the man she was with when she got a case of hypothermia on San Jacinto after a storm. She raved for hours while he warmed her up with hot liquids, good advice and conversation. Most of the trail here cuts through slopes of the many mountains it crosses. There are great views in all directions at different points. We saw Mount Baldy and Baden Powell. for the first time ahead to the west with It is a long way to Agua Dulce but we want to do it this year so we can hike the desert in the winter and miss winter in the mountains. Coon Creek Jump-off is a dramatic break between the alpine habitat and the desert below in North Fork Mission Creek. It has to be seen. There was a bathroom there at a still closed camp! After ascending another mountain we got a great view of the north side of Mount San Gorgonio. We all took pictures. I never thought I would see it this way. You go from trail to dirt road to trail in this area. We bumped into two lovely 25 year old recent college graduates from Canada who became our campmates later. They were fit and fast hikers. We saw the movie animal place along the way here. There was a Grizzly, brown bear and a white tiger that could be seen from the trail. The Canadian girls thought having them in captivity was just terrible. The place was a mess though. We had planned to camp at Onyx summit close to Highway 18 but that was a mistake. It was a waterless spot and we decided to pushed on to definite water at Arrastre Trail Camp. Even though there is record breaking water in the area we needed to make sure we had enough for the long stretches. I made us stop by a mountain rivulet that allowed us to make it easily to our night’s camp. There were about eight hikers in the camp when we arrived. It made for a great night of talk and sharing. I did a little impromptu show and Ray told many a story. I think all but one of the through hikers was in their twenties; all nice and interesting. The Canadian girls had nasty blisters but couldn’t have been less worried about them. One of the guys gave us a wonderful rundown of his favorite beers. I helped a few of them get a cell phone call out to loved ones. The next morning we left late after the others. We only had about 10 miles to go and relaxed a little. One guy who had arrived late said he was hiking with his retired dad “who is hiking like he is retired and is two days behind me but we will meet in Victorville.” The trail is basically north here and we followed an escarpment of alpine and desert habitat. We saw the Mojave Desert north of the San Bernardino’s for the first time. It is massive. It is amazing to think we will go a hundred miles or more west and still be in it when we leave the San Gabriel’s. There are good views of the lakes here and remarkably groves of Joshua Trees on the desert like hills. Also the Pinyon Pines are quite beautiful. We kept thinking we heard cars just ahead on Highway 18 at our terminus for about 2 hours. We decided we were delusional. We were all strong that day and our walk ended about 2 pm. We tried for a bit to see if the other hikers could get a ride then lit out for town on foot. We soon got picked up by a 60 something Norman Bates like character in a 73’ Jeep Wagon who we believe lived with his mother. We arrived unmolested in Big Bear City for the best meal so far at Stella’s. Good, cheap and filling. Check out the pictures here.