Sunday, September 24, 2006

Pacific Crest Trail trip 21 – August 18th through August 25th, 2006. 87 Miles.

See the photos here:
Pacific Crest Trail Hike 21
Aug 18, 2006 - 197 Photos

This was the longest trip yet. We spent seven days on the trail and took a ton of food. As always it took a bit of work dropping off a vehicle at the end and getting back to Kennedy Meadows. We hired Gary from Ridgecrest to take us to Kennedy. It took about 10 hours to pull it off and then we walked 11 miles. The weather was nice for the whole trip. I don't think it got much above 80 degrees. We passed and saw Beck and Monache Meadows. There was a controlled burn in this area that made the view a little murky. There never was a real clear day because of other fires. We are all carrying about 40lbs with food and bear canisters. It is the law up here and three extra pounds. I immediately felt the extra weight. I decided to bring my Mariposa Pack and it is overloaded. I took a chance with a light pack that turned out well. There is a lot of water up here. I think the farthest distance between water sources is seven miles and that is a miracle after 700 miles in Southern California. This is still cow country. We saw a big black object near the South Kern. Our eyes are old enough that for a while we thought it was a bear. Only a bovine. At the South Kern River we ran into a Sierra Club group that had bagged Olancha Peak. A guy came up to us in the dark and recommended we camp on the other side of the river. He thought we were part of his group and frankly he was a little nosy. After he found out we weren't with him he kept giving us advice. He turned me off. We were at 8000 or so feet and the stars were awesome. We got frost the next morning and our water bladders were frozen. It was a reminder to sleep with your water bottles. You can't filter water either with frozen tubes. Our first leg took us a long way up Cow Canyon. We filtered along the way: 14 hard miles today. We did see a lot of skunk cabbage. It was a bit hard to follow the trail in places because the whole area is so recently wet that every bush and plant is growing like a weed. There are still some wildflowers at higher altitudes which is a pleasure. We crossed Gomez Meadow on a causeway (a word I like to use) that keeps your feet out of the swampy meadow. A sheepherder carved a man smoking a pipe on a tree here about 100 years ago. I like ancient graffiti. We took a long to time to go the eight miles to pass the turn off for Olancha Peak and then down into Death Canyon. Our camp location that night was sensibly set by Bill before a 2000 foot climb that next day. I have developed a rash again on my lower back from the heavy pack. I think it is from the pack. I put duct tape on it and wrapped my fleece around my waist to stop its progress. The big climb on the 20th gave us a great view of Owens Valley to the east and the White Mountains. Perhaps we shall investigate them some day. We ran into Dave Drew recently retired from the Alaska DOT doing a section. Most of the hiking today followed a ridge that had several places to go off trail for water. I watched them all closely so we could get water at the last possible one, Dutch Meadow, to reduce water weight and then I missed it. We had to walk to Corpsman Creek to get water and we were thrilled when we saw it. We passed Trail Pass Trail. We needed a good camping spot and we found it at the edge of Poison Meadow which had a beautiful view east and west here.

On the 21st after Cottonwood Pass we passed Chicken Spring Lake. This beautiful lake with surrounding dramatic rocks called cirques marked the beginning of uniquely Sierran views. We had a big up after this and walked through a nasty section of rocks and sand. It slows you down and beats up your feet. There were some great views of mountains to the west. We passed a young couple. The women was pregnant and seemed to be far along. It couldn't be too long until a hiker baby was born. Another hiker, Bill, was starting his JMT trek from Cottonwood Pass. He was way overloaded and later we shared our water so he could survive to the next source. This day was the shortest. We slowly descended into Rock Creek, one beautiful place. We were alone when we arrived but soon there were 20 other hikers in the campground, a Sierra Club group, some older Boy Scouts with dads and a few strays. Bill, Ray and I were able to wash off very well in the river and even do some laundry. This has to be one of the more idyllic places we have ever been. One guy in the Sierra group figured out Bill's age and accomplishments and went on and on about how amazing he was. It made his day or week. It was nice to have some company to talk to. Saw our first Ranger who wanted to see our permits and bear canister. I showed her everything she needed while washing Ray's hair. She looked at the permit and said, "Where's Manning?" I explained it was the Canadian border. We attained Guyot Peak by 9:00AM the morning of the 22nd on the way to Crabtree Meadow. 3800 foot gain today which is the biggest of the hike. At 1:00PM today we met the John Muir Trail. The PCT and JMT join each other for 176 miles. It came after Crabtree Meadow which has a terrific view of the mountains to the east including Whitney. We had a big tiring climb up to the Bighorn Plateau that we were sure was badly routed. I renamed it "What's the Point" but it turned out to be the best way. Most of all our hiking has been at ten or eleven thousand feet, often above the tree line. The plateau has a 360 view of every mountain range within 50 miles. I saw my first Marmot. Our camp was at the crossing of Tyndale Creek which appears to run through blocks of rock stacked like Legos. I found a personal pool protected from the rushing water. It was wonderful. I almost got clean. We put our food in a Bear Box for the first time, a bear canister in a bear box, funny.

The next day we went over Forrester Pass after passing through a land of mystery and beauty. It was a something out of Tolkien. We passed creeks, ponds, grass, views of Whitney and patches of snow, some of which was watermelon snow, pink from algae. It reminded me of a Chinese contemplative garden. Now we have seen what they try to recreate in an urban setting. We met a very attractive lady, a Veterinarian from Canada, on the way up, obviously a veteran hiker. We took her picture and Bill and I were smitten. The trail over Forester Pass is a remarkable achievement. In places it seems to be carved out of the rock. Huge boulders everywhere. A nineteen year old died in 1930 when it was built and there is a plaque commemorating his death. We all felt very strong going up to the highest point on the PCT. There were at least eight hikers coming up the other way when we arrived. This turned into a flood of people we passed in the next few hours. Most of them loaded to the gills. I was worried that we had too much weight but almost everyone else had to be carrying ten to twenty pounds more. I felt sorry for them. I passed through a strip of snow covering the trail and the guys decided to walk around it on the talus. Bill said "you seem to be doing well" and then I fell on my butt. Soft landing and I was fine. Pride goeth
before the snow fall. There are lots of lakes here and many have a beaten path to them. I am sure the angling is good because we can see the fish hitting the surface. We descended into Vidette Meadows in a lovely treed area with Bubb's Creek nearby. We passed a lot of small streams and near the end of the meadow there were about six in a row which must be a record. We took a long break near the end of the day for a meal, washing and rest before climbing steeply out of the canyon. We saw a batch of lightly loaded hikers on the way up. There was a large pack train near the bottom and we deduced that they had been dropped off near the top to get the hiking experience. This climb was hard. We arrived about 7:00PM for our final camp near the junction of Kearsarge Pass and Charlotte Lake trails. We started the walk over Kearsarge early the next morning. It was Ray's 61st birthday. There are several lakes near and below the trail on both sides. Several feeder streams cross the trail. We never had to take off our shoes to ford a stream on this trip. The way out of a Sierra hike is a familiar one now with a sharp climb to a place in a rock wall and then down. There was good stream of hikers passing us on the way down. The first had a fishing pole and a Labrador. A Lab seems like the perfect trail dog and happy to be hiking. It is a long way down to the parking lot. We arrived about 11:00AM. I saw 154 hikers on this trip. The Sierras are pristine. People seem to be taking careful care in their travels. This was tough hiking. The views are becoming more beautiful and dramatic. It don't think, with snow pack, that we will be able to continue our journey for at least 10 or 11 months but we hope to get in some kind of trip in the meantime.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pacific Crest Trail Hike 20

Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows – June 5th – 8th, 2006 51.6 miles.

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On June 5th we left Walker Pass Trailhead after 2:00PM. These hikes are getting more difficult to get to. We had Dollar rent-a-car pick us up in Kennedy Meadows and drop us off. It was 91 degrees. A few minutes into the walk a fighter jet flew west through the canyon below us. It was very quiet. At first Ray thought it was a big rig. In five miles we got a big view of Inyokern, China Lake and Ridgecrest and plenty of budding Pinyon Trees. We still haven't eaten from them yet. There is a memorial plaque here to Jim Jenkins who helped the PCT a lot before he left this world early at the age of 28. Lots of footsteps from the through hikers here. This is the season. I have mixed feelings about the through hikers. I want to see them and talk to them but we have the trail to ourselves, at least so far, for most of the year. We met 10 hikers in 50 miles. I can't imagine why I think this might be important. It was a joy to see all 10 of them.

We got in 8 miles that first day and climbed several thousand feet to the Owens and Jenkins Mountains saddle. Its big shadow is projected on the Mojave Desert at dusk. Met the Mad Scientists, Amy and Mike. She is a botanist; he is a wildlife expert. They have done California before and this time they are using the trip to gather information for their graduate thesis on determining what kind of wildlife exists based on the vegetation in an area. They both attend UC Davis. Great couple. We slept well and had good views east and west.

The next day we got our water at the seasonal creek before Joshua Springs spur trail (the water source at Joshua Springs has traces of uranium in it, and though not serious is worth missing) before going down Spanish Needle Creek. We saw Nolina Plants (Parry's Nolina) which are related to the Yucca but with an incredible lantern of small yellow blossoms that are firm like a leaf. At a Spanish Needle Creek tributary we had lunch in cool shade and filled up on water for our steepest climb of the trip. Along the way, we spooked two families of Mountain Quail with cute tiny chicks running around. The moms aren't as nervous around us when they have kids and spend their time rounding them up. It is funny to watch. Fortunately out first two
afternoons were cloudy and cool. Trainman had just gone through this section with his hiking partner a few days before and had a tougher time of it, I suppose because of the heat. The saddle above Spanish Needle near Lamont Peak provided a nice view and break. Soon we got another great view of the Mojave. The trail is in good shape here. We arrived tired after a 20 mile day. We bumped into Tadpole at a creek before Chimney Creek Camp and were barely civil. We apologized later. We walked up Canebrake road to the camp and met Moondancer and his son Prickly Pear at the campground. This kid is precocious and quite a climber. Talking to Moondancer later, he says, "Are your Dana Law?" Turns out he had called me several months
earlier about information on a previous section. He is a professor at Boise State University. Birds of a feather hike together! Thirty million people in California but if you have a niche interest you will probably meet someone who shares it. Three other hikers came into camp, two young men and a lady. Her name was Twisted Sister. You gotta love trail names. The three left early the next morning and we didn't see them again. A good camp and pleasant dinner, though my alcohol stove is getting sooty. I think my fuel has been contaminated.

On June 7th, we had big climb but over many miles. We saw a lone Sequoia far south of its usual habitat. Passed Fox Mill Springs and entered into the 14 mile burned section. Did some magic tricks for Prickly Pear on the trail. He has money in his ears! Crossed the highest point on the trip, over 8000 feet. Not much to look at because of the burn but got a beautiful view of the Dome Lands National Park. It looks like a climber's paradise. Also a great view again of the snow-capped Sierras. Bill could pick out Mount Langley which hides Mount Whitney nearby. We had a long descent into Woodpecker Meadow crossing many diorite rivers of rock down to Rockhouse
Basin. Long two-hour lunch with hot food under a giant burned out tree. Good stream here. I washed just about everything. We arrived at the first true river in 700 miles, the Kern. Even though Whitewater River was big last year because of the record rains, The Kern is a true river. For some reason I thought we had to cross the thing but that was not the case. Ray said, "I am not crossing any rivers!" and I felt the same. We won't have that luxury further up the Sierras. We camped with Sonny and Tadpole at Pine Creek before it runs into the Kern River. They had seen a big bear on the trail that day. Tadpole is as nice as she can be, and Sonny is the same with the addition that he is a total gear head and loves learning about every aspect of hiking. I wish when I was that age I asked as many questions. He was picking up a ULA pack in Kennedy Meadows that we didn't get to see. I gave him my pack of salmon I wouldn't have been able to eat, and he filtered my water at the creek. We had some thunder and a bit of rain that made us put our rainflys on but they came off for a night of a nearly-full moon and bright stars. It cooled off and chilled our water for the last day's segment.

June 8th: We walked about seven miles into Kennedy Meadows, a pretty area. The Kennedy Store looks just as a mountain store should. We had drinks and snacks with Tadpole and Sonny. We ran into the famous Lawn Ornament (famous to me for her trail name). The trail ahead is the most challenging because we will have to make much longer sections during a limited time of the year. We will go again for as long as we can in August. Hiking is outdoor therapy.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pacific Crest Trail Hike 19 – Highway 58 Tehachapi Pass to Highway 178 at Walker Pass. 84 miles May 7th to May 12th 2006

This remarkably diverse section goes through mountains and deserts. After the traditional musical cars we slept in windy wash next to Highway 58 the night of May 7th and it was noisy, dirty and difficult to sleep. The walk up from Tehachapi Pass is steep and I got dehydrated and bonked at the end of about 18 miles; don’t know why. I thought I drank enough water. Saw 3 plastic PCT signs knocked over. Lots of Pinyon Pines which I found out always exist below the pine forests in dryer areas. Too bad pine nuts are out of season. Begin to see some wildflowers beginning with lupine. We scared off a large animal at Golden Oak Spring which is running well. We couldn’t see what it was because of the trees but it was big. Lots of cow pies in this section. This windy mix of public and private land means windmills for about 25 miles. Our first camp was at a very nice saddle. I slept for 9 hours! The body is a walking biology lab and some days the chemistry is out of balance.

On May 9th we left the camp under west facing windmills and walked to Robin Bird Spring. Keystone Kid and Balls from Portland joined us. They started the PCT early and skipped Section C because of the snow. Very nice young men and Balls is my son’s age. We saw a lot of cow pies in this area but no cows until we saw a giant black steer that ran away from us. Bill has cached water at two places for this trip but we had to depend on this and the last spring for the first 36 miles of the trip. Ray lost a walking stick; a nice one that had been made by a friend. We made a very nice camp above Cottonwood Creek and its tributary. Very quiet no wind. Balls and the Keystone kid passed by as we prepared our dinner. We never saw them again.

May 10th brought beautiful healthy pine forests along Landers Creek with an abandoned miners sluice box at waters edge. Crossed Piute Mountain road and found a trail journal with an invite for the house down the road about half a mile and history of this area once a town site called Claraville. Saw Velvet Ants, Grey Rats with a white butt (Bill calls them Bobtail Rats) and something that looks like babies breath and smells just as great. Got to Kelso Valley road after a big downward slope that took us completely out of the forest to a desert floor where the only shade is Joshua Trees. When we came near the road miraculously Mary Barcik super trail angel drove by. I hailed her and she said, “finally some through hikers.” We aren’t through hikers but we were thrilled to see her too. She said Robin Bird Pass road was repaired thanks to the efforts of Warner Springs Monty and some PCT hikers haranguing the proper officials and she had cached water at this important spot. She took Ray and my home numbers to call our wives as there is no signal in any part of this area. The walking is pretty easy afterwards but becomes a hot bitch on the way up to Desert Divide. We passed it about 1.6 miles to a great camp overlooking the desert. Through hikers who come through this area later must really suffer from the heat. We camped at the top of a wide desert valley to the east. We heard the braying of wild mules left over from the days of the prospectors. Hope they don’t come up here and try to mate.

May 11th gave us an early start out of lower elevations. It got hot yesterday which is what killed us. I have come up with a definition of PCT hiking especially in this area. It is a forced march with breaks. We have to cover so many miles to accomplish our goal that we must good use of daylight. I don’t want to walk at night even though we encountered our first full moon in three years of segment hiking. We saw an old rusty bus in a ravine and then as we descended farther found the hoof prints of the mules we heard the night before and then a carpet of flowers on the way to Bird Spring Pass. They smell great but they make Ray sneeze. We saw a rattler at the pass and curiously a Jackrabbit rolling in the dust like a happy dog. He didn’t seem too worried about us. Mary has a big cache here. Bill had left 4 gallons for us and we drank or packed it all out of there. There is no spring at Bird Spring Pass. Four well equipped motorcyclists went by on Hondas while we enjoyed our lunch break. Skinner Mountain is the big jump after the pass and the highest point on the trip at 6900 feet. We ascended 1100 feet in 1.1 mile fully loaded with water. Bill started to get sick. We still can’t figure out why because he fully hydrated at the bottom. Maybe he drank too much but we don’t know for sure. We got back into the Pinyon Pines on the north side of Skinner. I finally realized that it isn’t just altitude that brings you back into the forests but the side of the mountain. It can be barren desert at altitude on one side and a lush forest on the other. Bill couldn’t eat or drink at our next break. His stomach had taken over his body.
There are some killer views of the snow capped Sierra from here; beautiful. This has been first really clear day on the trip. Bill slowed downed and finally stopped. I went ahead to scout a camp and got my first cell phone signal when I recorded a journal note on my phone. We finally camped in a craggily haunted forest after Yellow Jacket spring. Bill lay down and slowly recovered but wasn’t able to eat or drink until the next morning.

May 12th we passed a big white steer in burn area that was just a nervous as the first one. There are a lot of blow downs here and it is bleak because of the burn. Didn’t see the road to McIvers Spring but saw a seasonal stream crossing near there. It is mostly flat here before descending to Walker Pass. We have our best view yet of the Sierras. The forest reappeared and smelled great along with the wild flowers. We met two older men coming up from Walker Pass campground one of which was the father of a PCTA board member named Corsine-Dennis. That is only four hikers in 84 miles. It was a joy to be near the end. We have never walked farther. A great guy named James who worked at China Lake and had done some hiking took us all the way into Ridgecrest. I apologized for us smelling up the truck and he said it was payback for all the times he had done the same to others. A hard but wonderful section of the trail.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

PCT 18 - Section E – Highway 138 to Highway 58 - 48 miles.

Check out the photos here

We crossed the desert in the winter! What a difference compared to our early days leaving the border. We spent the night before the trip in White's Motel in Mojave. White’s Motel has seen better days. Unless you are enthralled by the opportunity to hear trains all night as they stop to take a dinner break at the McDonald's next door, you’d be better off spending the night in your own sleeping bag.

The first day takes you on dirt roads mostly following the Los Angeles aqueduct. This is the one that "stole" water from the Owens Valley to feed the speedy growth of Los Angeles in the early 1900's. It is about 16 miles of flat walking all the way to Cottonwood Bridge. You pass through Joshua tree forests that look like Christmas tree farms. We were passed several times by languid aqueduct security in an SUV. The water is off right now and a work crew unknowingly provided a port-a-potty for us along the way. I got a hot spot on my right foot about 12 miles into the trip and cured it with duct tape; never bothered me again!

There are some terrific PCT signs here, they are heavy iron, maybe the best since Campo, and it helps keep the hiker from taking one of the many trails that cross it. The spooky thing was we started to hear gunshots, and not just single shot but automatic fire. I have fired a lot of rounds in my life but I think they fired as many in that afternoon as I have in all my days. We never saw them and fortunately we slowly moved away from the sound. We had water cached by Bill just past Cottonwood Creek and the trough, which was dry. Two of the four gallons had tipped over and run out. We suspect that they freeze and fall over easily. It was the first time this had happened. Fortunately two gallons was plenty. We decided to put in a couple of extra miles to make the next day easier. Unfortunately it got harder and harder to find a flat place to camp. We found one in a draw near the base of the mountain. I am getting better and better at eyeballing a flat spot but it was hard to avoid the cow pies in this area. Bill and I cooked our dinner in the biting wind while Ray got right into his tent, warmed up, and had a cold dinner.

The next morning I woke up to frost on the inside of my canopy. It was 28 degrees. That was cool, literally. This whole section is usually windy and hot, so our winter trip, though sometimes brisk, was a real gift. We saw a red tailed hawk or chicken hawk; a good looking bird. I had put my camera in my sleeping bag to warm it up and left it there by mistake. Bill took pictures that day. The climb up to the Tehachapi’s is not particularly steep but it is over 6200 feet where we crossed over. We made one wrong turn and wasted 40 minutes and some energy going the wrong way. We had a short snow flurry and passed through some pinyon pines. I can't wait to try the nuts when they are in season. There are a mess of motorcycle trails here; a group of bikers stopped to talk and promised to stay off the PCT as much as possible, which is not easy. Tylerhorse Canyon had water but Gamble was dry. There is a stiff series of switchback here. We crossed over the top in pleasant trees and views of the Antelope Valley. The north side of the mountain has a nice secluded ridge of cabins and more motorcycle trails. We paid close attention and had to reroute twice to get back on the PCT. The snow from the last storm ran about two to four inches in places. Our trail runners stayed dry. We saw cute little bunny and deer tracks. It was mighty cool. I need winter gloves for this but the rest of me was warm and comfy.

The trail goes down, down, down past the first wind farm above Oak Creek where we camped for the night. It was plenty chilly again so we all jumped in our tents for an early night and a cold dinner. Better to eat it in a warm sleeping bag where I found my camera. This camp is right by Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, which we crossed in the morning to go over rolling hills filled with wind farms. There are old school windmills here with their new modern giants next to them. It wasn't too windy this time but this is the place to catch the power. The trail goes gently up and finally descends steeply to Highway 58 with a great view of the Southern Sierras. We have made it to the Tierra Del Fuego tip of the mountains ahead. Near the Highway, Ishmael from Tehachapi Taxi picked us up for the trip to Mojave. This wasn't too difficult a hike - the next trip is 84 miles.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Neenach and the Tehachapis from Liebre Mountain

PCT Trip 17 Aqua Dulce, Ca to Highway 138 at Neenach, Ca January 22nd to 25th 2006.

This was almost 62 miles. We picked up Captain Bivy (Paul Freiman) at Highway 138 and dropped him off in the dark at Elizabeth Canyon to complete a section for himself. It wasn’t until we got there that we saw what a tough climb he had ahead. We were fortunate to be able to stay with the Saufley’s at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, CA, the night before the hike. They have a trailer behind the house and it was heated! They are the best PCT Angels and wonderful people.

We managed about four hours of sleep before the first day but I never felt tired. You follow the road out of town for a mile or so before you hit the dirt again. What looks like a junk yard has the fuselage of a large commercial aircraft in it. It was a very windy day and as we gained a view of the lovely sequestered Annan Ranch, we were almost blown off our feet. There is a large exposed vein of quartz along the trail and scattered pieces all about as if someone had tried to blow it out of the ground. The mountain here is called Sierra Pelona. It is better looking than most mountains, and though it is high the trail is an easy grade. It was plenty windy on top so we didn’t dawdle long.

We passed some French day-hikers on the way down and took our lunch in a quiet spot soon after. Ray took a quick nap which he does so easily. I’m jealous anyway. We got to Bouquet Canyon Road, the source of the day-hikers, crossed the street, and started another trek up the hill there. Within a mile and a quarter we saw two small streams running well. It appears, though there have been some recent rains, that last year’s massive downpours have kept a lot of streams and springs going into the new season. Our day ended at 4:30PM with about 18 miles traveled. We worry about finding camping spots in this chaparral cloaked area, but were surprised to find the Anderson’s Oasis water cache before road 6N09 to be the perfect spot. They hollowed out an area under a large Manzanita, put in lawn chairs, a pink flamingo and a hanging skeleton – I guess for a Halloween theme. It fit two of our tents, and Bill put his in a big spot on the trail. We cooked our new trail food: Tortellini with dried tomatoes. It was terrific! It got to 36 degrees that night, but we were warm and comfortable in our bags.

The chaparral here is boring and unattractive. This is a devilish section in the late spring and summer. We weren’t consuming a lot of water but it is critical later in the year. For the first time on the PCT, I wore my wind stopper jacket all day. The trail after Bouquet Canyon Road is in poor shape. It needs maintenance. We saw the first evidence of motorcycles using the trail. They had ripped up the tread in many places where the ground was soft and muddy. It creates erosion zones, is bad for the trail and just plain illegal. I believe about 70% of the trail has been used by them between Agua Dulce and Highway 138. We hate the results of what they are doing. Bill said if he lived closer to this section he would come out on the weekend with a lawn chair and a camera and get them in trouble.

There are remnants of wild cucumber on the entire section. This is one strange looking plant. Passing San Francisquito Canyon, another big climb, we saw two big water caches that had been brought up from the dirt road below. Elizabeth Canyon was running well. This is a tough section because you are going up and down crossing canyons. We are strong hikers but it wasn’t easy. We saw some great views of the eastern Antelope Valley. The desert and surrounding mountains are beautiful. We have a great view of the sections ahead. At length, we ran into some conifers, big cone spruce, and soon after saw some black oaks with their acorns making the ground slippery. The big surprise, though it shouldn’t have been, was snow. It started to cover the ground in patches and eventually nearly covered it completely. We passed a beautiful stand of trees that looked good for camping but was too windy. Our camp for the night was built by a scout troop in the nineties and, though chilly, had a very soft duff so we slept very well. We didn’t cook hot breakfast because of the shortness of the days – wanting to make the most of daylight. We are all coffee drinkers and Ray brought some magic beans from his wife Kay (at least that is what I named them) – chocolate covered coffee beans, to feed our need at the beginning of the day.

The next morning we passed a stream that had a cap of ice over the small waterfall, and
a small pond behind it that would have been the perfect ice rink for fairies. You can see the Pacific here; I don’t remember ever seeing it since the start at Campo. The coulter pines are a beautiful species with a large cone. They are found here healthy and beautiful. Also sprinkled about are incense cedars which they make pencils from. Most of the hills are chaparral and brush so these trees are a gift to walk through.

We always carry a ton of information on these trips. I have step-by-step directions, Bill has a GPS and maps, and we always study the section before we go. Still sometimes we get confused. There is an intersection of the old and new PCT on Liebre Mountain. The sign is broken and we stood around, walked around, and consulted our notes and the stars before taking off the right way. Our friend. Paul Freiman, 2 days ahead of us, wasn’t so lucky. He went 2 miles down the wrong way before stopping for the night and doubling back in the morning.
On the way down to Pine Canyon Road, we made our last camp under a massive oak in a grass covered saddle sprinkled with ice. No wind and soft undergrowth. I spent my 12 hours in my tent sleeping or listening to Stephen King’s Carrie. The whole area has clumps of Miner’s Lettuce which I ate a handful of. Bill and I promised ourselves to make a salad the next time we run into it.

We left our long underwear on for the last cool segment but we had to strip them off at Pine Canyon Road. On the way down we saw maybe two tons of Mistletoe hanging everywhere, 4 or 5 washouts of the trail in the creeks, the remains of last year’s fire, a bizarre post conflagration plant and, surprisingly, fruit trees. We couldn’t figure out which kind from the mummified fruit on the ground, but it was remarkable at that altitude. Miner’s Lettuce everywhere, and beautiful views of the valley below including a giant crop circle of green grass or alfalfa. The trail is in rough condition here. We descended slowly, sure in our minds this would be an easy day. At Pine Canyon there is a river, and we passed a bucolic vernal pond with ducks. A road worker grading the sides of the road from a washout said he would like to hike, too, but hadn’t been in that kind of shape since the army. We assured him he could do it. He also said that deer sightings in the area, once common, were way down due to increasing populations of mountain lions: something I confirmed later. Comforting…

Then we crossed the street into No Man’s Land. The map showed a gentle slope down to our terminus of about 7 miles, but it turned into a roller coaster through Hell’s Half Acre. A topographic map shows altitude in 40 foot contours so it looked like we would go down about 1000 feet until the end, but in reality it goes up and down meaninglessly and strenuously through hills until the last 500 or so yards. To top it off the whole section is burned out. Very few pleasant sights except the occasional glimpse of the valley ahead and the shock of a gingerbread mansion dream house on a hill nearby. The PCT handbook says this torturous section was designed by lawyers from the Tejon Ranch who kept the PCT skirting their land 20 years ago. They have agreed to reroute the trail through their property sometime in the future, which will take it out of the desert and properly through the mountains as God intended.

We found a dead ostrich tied to a fence not long before highway 138. Our first impression was of an animal owner’s cruelty though we will never know. We were pretty tired and achy at the end, but took the time to visit Bob at Hikertown across the street to get permission to park our car there for our next segment. We walked a mile east to Gil’s Country Store in Neenach to wait for Jeff Saufley for our ride back to Agua Dulce. Those 3 hours will live in our memories forever. We met, saw and listened to the strange and interesting characters of a small town.

Gil of course doesn’t sell stuff on credit anymore. His wife runs the store now because he is laid up in the trailer out back: He shattered his leg while trying to collect on a debt. Patty, who has worked at the store for 6 years through 3 owners, was there, and the guy who built the store in ’75 and ran it for 15 years stopped by to say, “Hi.” Another “Gil”, Gilbert, a big hulk of a man from Lebec “since 48”, who knew everything about the surrounding area, played with the giant five month old dog who tried to eat our food. A cowboy, who stopped by to pick up hay, went in and out of the place 5 times, walking like he spent most of his time on a horse. At least five school buses dropped off kids from area schools while parents picked them up. Several people got the new lecture about no credit, and one slightly brain damaged young man asked for a case of beer that he would pay for on Thursday, while his Methamphetamine-high friend waited in the truck for him. I asked Patty what percentage of their sales was alcohol and cigarettes and she said, “All of it.” It was almost more interesting than the last 4 days.

We have traveled 519 miles on the trail and it has been challenging and fun. The next segment crosses 16 miles of desert before going up into the Tehachapi’s. See you soon.