Southern California: The Dry Part

The southern CA stretch was more difficult than expected, partly due to the transition from one of the most visually stunning landscapes (the high Sierra) to one of the most drab (the desert in the fall). I was also expecting southern CA to be flatter. It's not all desert south of the Sierras, but instead climbs in and out of the desert, transitioning from desert, to chaparral, to forest as you go up.

The most difficult part was adjusting to a trail with few reliable water sources.  Clear cold water is abundant in the high Sierras, but south of Cottonwood Pass, water sources quickly increase up to 40 miles apart. Carrying 2-5 liters of water takes some getting used to, as does being dirty all the time. (There are few swimming opportunities.)  Once south of Tehachapi the trail begins to pass through more populated areas, so resupply and support becomes more frequent, offsetting much of the difficulties with the lack of water.  Showers, laundry, cold drinks and food are more accessible.  Unfortunately there were several trail closures due to fires and an endangered frog, so some road walking and/or hitching was necessary.

Heat waves and cold fronts came and went, with high temps 60s-90s depending on elevation.  Generally anytime below 4,000' the heat was noticeable, and above 6,000' temperatures were comfortable.  I started carrying an umbrella at Walker Pass, which I used on a regular basis as there is little to no shade below 6,000'.  I also started doing some night hiking to avoid hiking through low elevation areas in the heat of the day.  I did get a few glorious cloudy days!

Gina, from the China Ranch Date Farm (www.chinaranch.com), gave me a ride back up to Horseshoe Meadow.  In addition to the 20+ mile ride out of her way, she left me with a sampling of delicious dates and a loaf of date bread.
Looking east southeast, into the Mojave Desert. Fighter jets flew over my head in this area multiple times per day at very low elevation, scaring the crap out of me and hurting my ears.  There are all kinds of military air craft flying around southern CA.  Looks like lots of fun, but it made me wonder what all that flying costs...http://nation.time.com/2013/04/02/costly-flight-hours/
A couple days after leaving the high Sierras a notable change in the vegetation occurs. I came over a ridge and saw the first Joshua Trees and Mojave Yucca, the desert welcoming committee.  
A nasty spring.  There is so little water on the trail that the concentration of animals (including humans) using what little water there is creates a mess.  This trough was filled with trash, bird feces, dead insects, and a couple inches of disgusting water.  Consulting the PCT Water Report became a regular and critical part of the day. 
Lunch! I came upon this snake thrashing around in the trail.  As I approached it retreated under a rock to protect its meal, which was still breathing.
More desert vegetation (Yucca). Unfortunately not much in flower this time of the year, but some remnants around. 
Walking down to Tehachapi Pass the wind was blowing over 40 mph and marked the beginning of multiple days of walking through large wind farms.
I met Mark at Tehachapi Pass, where he was meeting another guy to return some parachutes he lent him.  Mark is a pilot, former Marine, cyclist, skydiver, and all around nice guy.  His family is equally delightful. He gave me a ride into town and then offered me a place to stay.  After a tough dry stretch from Kennedy Meadows I was more tired and dirty than normal, so I felt especially lucky to have met such wonderful people.  I didn't get a ride in the plane, or an opportunity to jump out of it, but maybe next time.
Back on the trail, more wind turbines and large solar energy arrays in the distance.  There is more renewable energy in that area of Mojave than I have ever seen in one place. 
The aqueduct walk across the western Mojave.  Not my favorite part of the PCT.  Glad to have the umbrella!
Back up into the hills south of Neenach and Hikertown.  Happy to be there.
Joe and Terrie, at their home in Green Valley.  They are some of the wonderful trail angels that open their home to hundreds of PCT hikers every year in southern CA.  Over 1500 hikers stayed with them this year.
At this spring there was a slow drip from a PVC pipe filled with bees, and a rattlesnake laying in the mud.
Looking down at LA country from the San Gabriel Mountains, a beautiful stretch of higher elevation hiking (over 9,000'), with trees and even a couple nice cold flowing springs.

The view on the way down to Cajon Pass, crossing I-15: burn, traffic, and smog.  I got off trail here to visit a friend, Anthony, in Monrovia.  I made a sign and stood by the on-ramp in hopes of getting a ride down to the LA area. I didn't get a ride, but several people thought I was homeless and offered me money. 

A good visit with Anthony, and a farewell at Cajon Pass with some fresh roadside fruit. 

Desert rainbow, with occasional light rain that never seemed to get anything wet. 

Approaching Mt San Jacinto. The next day I got diarrhea and fever, after a stay in the town of Big Bear.  This is the first time I got sick on the trail.  Luckily, there is a place called the Whitewater Preserve (www.wildlandsconservancy.org) that has water, shade, and is very friendly to hikers, where I spent a night and most of a day recovering.

After hiking a few miles out of the Whitewater Presever, I decided to wake up at 2:30AM (or the wind decided to wake me up) and start the hike across I-10/ Coachella Valley and up San Jacinto.  My legs felt refreshed after the rest at the preserve and I was happy to have made it to higher ground before the heat of the day.  Since I didn't stop in Cabazon to get food I was low on food.  I met these two former CDT hikers, Jug and Charlotte (?), heading up to the summit of San Jacinto.  They identified me as a thru-hiker and offered me 4 Lara bars, 2 Fuji apples, and 6 clementines.  That made my day!

Looking down from Mt San Jacinto.  Over 31 miles and over 10,000' up made for a big day.  I was delighted to see there was a stone cabin near the summit, so I spent the night.
Sunrise over the Sultan Sea from the summit of Mt San Jacinto. 

Clean money, dirty feet. On my way into Idyllwild I got a hitch with a couple from Laguna Beach driving a nice Jeep.  It was only a couple miles and I didn't even get there names, but the gentleman stuck a $100 bill in my hand when they dropped me off at the grocery store.  I stuttered some words of resistance, but he insisted.  The next guy I met, Richard, a local, gave me his phone number and offered me a ride around the closed burn section once I finished my grocery shopping.  Best ever first and second impression of a trail town?  

A nice day to hike in the desert.  A cold front came through and brought some clouds.

Tarantulas, scorpions, snakes, and prickly plants: watch where you sit in the desert!

A beautiful sunset south of Warner Springs was followed by the scariest lightening storm I've ever experienced on the trail.  Luckily, I found some trees to wait it out before setting up camp.  

Sometimes the desert sucks. That really hurt! 

One of the most enjoyable sections of southern CA is around Mt Laguna.  The trail follows a ridge at about 6000' that straddles the transition point between forest, chaparral, and the expansive Anza Borrego desert.  

2,600 miles of hiking and I found exactly 1 tick.

The southern terminus at the US Mexican border.  That's not my bottle of  fake champagne, and I didn't have any.  Hot fake champagne at 10:30 AM didn't seem appealing. Instead I got a pint of Rocky Road Hagen Daas in Campo.  I got a hitch to Alpine with a Campo local, Tony, and friend, Diego, came out  to pick me up. Now I'm resting and regrouping in Oceanside with Diego, Kat, Oscar, Phoebe, and Tiny, considering a bike ride down the Baja. 

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