It has been almost two months since Dirt Stew and I finished our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I thought I would summarize our adventure with a few interesting facts and statistics from our hike:
We hiked 95.5% of the Pacific Crest Trail (roughly 100 miles short due to wild-fire closures)
The hike took 128 days
We took 8 “zero days” (days off) which included 4 days to go to a wedding
We walked an average of 20 miles a day (including zero days)
Longest day: 34 miles
We spent 97 nights camping on the trail
We spent 19 nights in paid accommodation (hotel, hostel, cabin, etc)
We spent 5 nights with trail angels
We spent 6 nights with friends/other
We had 15 days of rain or precipitation
We hiked on snow for at least part of the day for 16 days
We each went through roughly 5 pairs of shoes
The most north-bounders we passed in one day was 78
Number of other south-bound thru-hikers we met during our whole hike was 7
We spent $4,000 per person during the hike (not including food in mail-drops)
We had 17 mail-drops pre-made and 6 more were made during our hike
Our biggest expense was health insurance ($250/month per person)
Most expensive piece of gear lost: down jacket
Most water carried: 6 liters per person (we didn’t need all of it)
Base weight for Dirt Stew was anywhere from 10 to 15lbs
Base weight for Dormouse was anywhere from 8 to 12 lbs
Favorite sections: Northern Washington followed by the Sierra Nevada
We took 3641 pictures
The most picked up piece of trash was Mylar balloons, followed by plastic water bottles
We soaked ourselves in 5 different hot tubs
We hiked or hitched past 6 wild-fire closures (we found alternates for many, but not all)
We saw 5 bears (none in bear canister territory)
Most obnoxious animal: raccoon waking us up in the middle of the night
Cutest animal: the pika
Number of hikers in bad circumstances that we were able to help: 3
Best food experience: Aardvarks food truck
Cause of most painful full stomach experience for Dirt Stew: 1 medium sized pepperoni pizza followed by 1 large burrito
Cause of most painful full stomach experience for Dormouse: 1 order of mozzarella sticks, 1 bacon cheese burger followed by ice cream
Dirt Stew’s most missed creature comfort: a kitchen with food in it
Dormouse’s most missed creature comfort: sonic tooth brush
Number of voice recordings for the Halfmile project: 1500+
If you are curious about any statistics we haven’t thought of let us know in the comments.
Highlights: We decided to go back to the fire closure area that we had missed earlier this year in order to cover missed miles. Going from the desert up to Northern California was a huge change. We started hiking on a foggy day. Everything was wet and cold, and we were surrounded by green trees and ferns and rugged mountains. It was exhilarating. We hiked to Seiad Valley where we resupplied and met some very nice folks in the cafe. We continued on through the Marble Mountain Wilderness which was heavily affected by the wild fires, and several bridges were burnt out. The last couple days into Etna were extremely painful for me, as the suspected tendinitis in my hips was flaring up. I knew on the day into Etna that our hike would end there, as every step was painful. Plus weather was coming our way– precipitation probably in the form of snow was predicted for the day after we walked out. But by doing this section, we finished the state of Oregon and left a wonderful 100 mile section to do another year.
Highlights: We hiked out of Idyllwild with the intention of doing the road walk around the old fire closure there, and quickly decided the road that we were on was a death trap, and found a safe(ish) place to hitchhike around it. We got a ride to the Paradise Cafe where we had humongous burgers and hiked on via the trail from there. We are hiking through lower elevation territory with many cactuses and other plants all thorny or spikey. We are lucky that the weather is staying relatively cool. We hiked into Warner Springs to pick up our package at the post office and got intercepted by a trail angel there, Lawrence the spring guy, who coaxed us into staying for leftover spaghetti dinner with blueberry pie and showers at the community center. We carried on past Eagle Rock to Julian where we decided to spend the night, although we really didn’t need a night in a hotel- it would be our last one of the trail!
Day 116: Idyllwild to Mile 140, about 16 miles
October 25th: We got up and looked for a place to eat for breakfast. As usual, our hiker schedules meant we were up before anyone else, and the only thing open was the Town Bakery. This bakery had unbelievably delicious pastries and we totally pigged out on their egg and ham turnovers and the cinnamon buns. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. This bakery is even better than the one in Stehekin. No joke!
We headed out of town looking for the road to Paradise Cafe. We were armed with a map that Ziggy and the Bear gave us, but with no road or trail names on it, we decided to just ask some locals for directions. We were meant to walk on road 243 then on route 74 to get there. We started walking, and the road got more and more hairy. It was a Saturday, and Idyllwild is a tourist town, so everyone and their families were out driving this “scenic” (read: windy as all hell with no shoulder) road going 50-60mph. It got so bad that I started not being able to walk on the correct side of the white line marking the edge of the road because it was so close to the guard rail, and the other side of the guard rail was a 45 degree cliff. I could almost feel the cars nearly brushing up against me as they were trying to squeeze through these narrow corners, still going twice the speed limit. I was shaking and yelling at Dirt Stew who was walking ahead of me. “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”
The minute there was a tiny amount of space on the side of the road we stopped walking and with absolutely no hesitation we agreed we had to get the heck out of there. Getting killed by walking on a highway road at the end of our hike would be the stupidest way to go. I was angry that we wound up hitch-hiking because we had done so many annoying road walks that now seemed pointless. In the end, the whole hike is in some sense pointless– sometimes you get carried away in the details of keeping a continuous footpath, or being a purist, or whatever your goals are. We all create rules for ourselves and then when reality forces you to do something different, you start to question the whole thing. Oh well, we could always come back and hike around Idyllwild, we said to each other.
We got to Paradise Cafe, and ordered burgers, which of course made everything better.
As we hiked on, we ran into a trail angel, Mary, who had stocked one of the water caches for us, and was in the middle of trying to plant a cottonwood in hopes that it would provide some shade for hikers in the future. We tried to help her plant the tree, but cutting the plastic pot off of the tree roots was a one person job, so we thanked her and carried on with our hike. The trail was easy, so I worked on learning my state capitals and finally camped on a slanty spot near the trail sometime after dark.
Day 117: Mile 140 to Mile 112.5, 27.5 miles
October 26th: The water sources have been quite regular in these areas thanks to many trail angels. We came across a cistern which was set up to catch rain water. As I admired the setup and looked in at the yellowish water, a cactus came up behind me and started stabbing me repeatedly in the back of the leg. This cactus had two lines of attack: it had larger, longer pointy spines for general stabbing purposes, and then if you managed to get past those (which somehow I did), it had much smaller splinter-sized spines which it deposited all over you by the thousand. I spent most of the day trying to pick these off of me, wondering how they’d manage to get into places like the liner of my shorts. Soon after the cactus incident, I managed to walk straight into a yucca, which jabbed me javelin style right into my shin. I grabbed my bleeding leg and hopped around on one foot whimpering. Everything was out to get me. We camped not too far from Warner Springs in a valley with oak trees.
Day 118: Mile 112.5 to Mile 100, 12.5 miles
October 27th: We woke up before the break of dawn to the sound of hooting owls and I lay there for a minute listening. We hiked into Warner Springs and waited for a short time for the Post Office to open. It was a crisp cool morning, and there was fog in the valley. By the time we got our packages and packed up, the fog had lifted and the cool air was quickly being warmed up by the sun. We had just got back on the trail when we saw a man walking up to us with a large hat on waving.
“I’ve been looking for you guys” He said. I wondered who this person was, but he obviously knew who we were.
“Looking for us?” I asked.
“Yes, Dormouse and Dirt Stew! The GPS team. Thanks to you, I met Robert and Adrian, and I’ve been looking for Sadie too.” He said.
He had read my blog and was using it to track down all the southbounders to meet them on their way through Warner Springs. He got some leftover spaghetti dinner out of his car, and promised us more food if we came over to the community center when it opened. Then he told us this whole long story about how he had done research to find an alternate route around the fire closure in Idyllwild, and printed out maps for us, driving them all the way to Ziggy and the Bear’s with an explanation of how we were supposed to go to avoid “Deadman’s road” as he called it (road 243). We had gotten the maps from Ziggy and the Bear, but with no explanation!
“You think you’re doing this low-impact hike, and then there are people like me driving all over the place trying to get you maps and burning gas…” He joked. I felt bad that we hadn’t managed to figure it out. Again, people were out there running around doing things behind our back to help us out while we are hiking along, blissfully unaware.
We hung out with Lawrence for several hours until the Community Center opened up, and then had more spaghetti with meatballs, blueberry pie and took showers in the stalls they had set up for hikers outside. They had a couple of painfully slow computers which I quickly became to frustrated to try to use to update our blog, but I did manage to check my email and found a message from Mark, the guy we had given water to at the top of Fuller Ridge. I was very happy to see the email, knowing it meant he made it safely, but when I went to read it I was in shock. Despite our best efforts to help him by giving him all our spare water, he still did not have enough. He had resorted to drinking a quart and a half of his own urine to make it to the faucet at the bottom of San Jacinto. “If we hadn’t crossed paths, I would have wound up calling in a rescue…” He wrote. He was now safely at Ziggy and the Bear’s drinking Gatorade to rehydrate. For the rest of the day, I kept rethinking the scenario and wondering what we could have done differently. He should have gone back to the last water source once he realized there was not going to me another source. The desert is no joke, and from Fuller Ridge, where you are nearly at 9,000 ft and in pine trees, you don’t necessarily think about how hellishly hot and shade-less it will be once you go down 8000ft in elevation… If only we could have helped him more.
Outside the community center, a coyote was out in plain daylight trying to hunt. Lawrence told us that was unusual, as coyote’s usually hunt a night or dusk, but given the drought, it was probably desperate. They had gotten no rain yet this year in Warner Springs, and last year they got a grand total of 3 inches. How’s that for the desert?
We left Warner Springs with full bellies and miles to hike. A scorpion sat in the middle of the trail, welcoming us back. It was poised and ready to attack when we got close to take its picture.
We made it to Eagle Rock, a rock formation that happens to look like an Eagle and then hiked a few more miles to camp.
Day 119: Mile 100 to Julian (mile 77), 23 miles
October 28th: We hiked on through what feels more and more and more like the desert. We got to another water cache, and I sat down next to the trail register to see how far ahead our friends were. “OWWWWW!” I yelped. I sat directly on a bit of cactus that was now imbedded into my butt. Dirt Stew started laughing. “Be more careful where you sit!” He said. I spent some time picking the spikes out of my butt, and cursed the desert. Half an hour later, Dirt Stew sat on the same stupid cactus.
Despite the lack of water, there are a few animals and insects that live in the desert. We came across a humongous black insect with orange wings. It was the size of several quarters next to each other. I quickly walked past it as fast as I could, and then seconds later heard Dirt Stew scream like a girl behind me. “Holly crap! That thing flew straight towards me!” He said, running frantically.
We hiked on towards Scissors Crossing through the shade-less desert and hitchhiked into town. We got a ride from a level 4 maximum security prison guard, who told us stories about the mafia members he has to guard. “Not a job for everyone” he said. No kidding. We got a hotel room and finished our chores as quickly as possible.
Day 107: Mile 363.5 to mile 342, 21.5 miles
October 16th- We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and started hiking downhill towards Cajon Pass. We are in the habit of picking up trash we find on the trail, and when I saw a beer can out of the corner of my eye, I pointed to Dirt Stew to pick it up. He sighed, and picked it up as I hiked on. “IT’S FULL!” He shouted. “Wow, who would have thought ‘trail magic’ would look so much like trash” I joked. As the day grew warm and the trail was meandering a bit much, we decided to split the beer. As we got close to Cajon Pass, I was surprised by how beautiful the rocks were. They looked like the rocks at Vasquez Rocks- probably formed by the same tectonic plate movement of the San Andreas Fault. Ironically, however, these rocks had power-lines running over them instead of being set aside as a State Park. I’m sure if the Vasquez Rocks had not been preserved, they would have things built on them as well.
Dirt Stew and I made a beeline for the McDonald’s, and had some greasy food before deciding to stay in the Best Western across the street. The Best Western had a hot tub, and I happily jumped in.
Day 108: Mile 342 to mile 318, 24 miles
October 17th- We slept in and went next door to the Del Taco to order a few burritos for the trail. The lady taking our order asked us where we were hiking, and when we told her we had hiked from Canada she said astutely “Wow, I’m definitely not envious… but I think what you’re doing is pretty cool”
Day 109: Mile 318 to mile 290, 28 miles
October 18th- After a few hours of hiking we came across brown bag by the trail which had “Happy Anniversary Dirt Stew + Dormouse, SOBO thru’s” written on it. I was so touched my voice started getting squeaky. “Awwww! That’s so sweeeeeeeet!” I squeaked. We opened it up and there was a note inside from “Just Bruce” with a big bag of fun sized Snickers. Bruce had read our blog and wanted to leave something for us. There was also a gallon of water. The thought that went into this gift was amazing. It is tremendous to find something seemingly in the middle of nowhere with your name on it. Thru-hiking, especially southbound is a very lonely experience, and sometimes you feel like there’s nobody but you for hundreds of miles. This reminded me that we weren’t alone. People care about hikers, and care that we are successful, and are there to cheer us on!
We scratched “Thank you” in the sand next to where we picked up the magic, and took everything with us, so as not to leave any trash behind. Soon we entered the Deep Creek area where many people hike up to the hot springs. The area had more trash on the trail than we could pick up. We were feeling down on weekenders and day hikers, seeing all the plastic bottles chucked next to the trail, and the graffiti on rocks.
It seemed ironic to me that the people most likely to carry that trash out were the people who would have to carry it the furthest. Something that Adrian, another southbounder from France said to us several days ago came to mind. “I just take two things that aren’t mine off the trail every day”. He said. That was probably the best way to deal with the problem. We couldn’t pick up all the trash if we wanted to, but if every hiker just took two pieces of trash that wasn’t theirs, the place would eventually get picked up. Now if only we could convince everyone to do this… When we got to the hot springs, there were so many people that I wasn’t even interested in going down to the springs themselves. A vicious dog came running up to us barking and growling. Immediately Dirt Stew and I put our umbrellas in front of us like shields. The dog looked confused. “Don’t worry, he’s nice, he just is afraid of your umbrellas” Said a guy sitting on a picnic blanket with a sunburn. Well, I wasn’t going to put my umbrella away to find out, so we move on quickly. The whole area smelled like human waste, and there was toilet paper everywhere to support the smell. There had been a warning in our water report about the water there being contaminated with human waste, and that it could potentially contain a deadly virus. I have no clue why people go there. It’s not like in the hot desert you’re ever really craving a hot spring…? I don’t get it.
Day 110: Mile 290 to mile 266, 24 miles
October 19th- Today we hiked up into a nice forested area. My hips were sore, but I hiked fast to get to Big Bear in time to do our chores and get to bed at a reasonable hour. After waiting at the road for a while, a nice couple finally picked us up. They stopped at a store for us to buy a few things, and we were grateful because we could now cook ourselves a pasta dinner at the hostel. Once we got settled in the hostel and introduced ourselves to the myriad of strange characters there, we cooked 2 pounds of pasta and gobbled them up with a jar of pasta sauce and some apple turnovers for desert. I fell asleep very early, probably before 8pm, and didn’t wake up again until 11 hours later.
Day 111: Mile 266 to mile 254, 12 miles
Day 112: Mile 254 to mile 230, 24 miles
October 21st- The temperature at night was perfect, since we were at higher elevation. In the desert the tree-line is reversed from the rest of the planet. Instead of there being no trees above a certain elevation, there are no trees below a certain elevation. Below a certain elevation (maybe around 6000ft), it just feels like desert. Above that elevation, there are trees, and it feels more like forest. At some point we went around a corner and the trail looked like it was covered in diamonds. There were white crystals everywhere. I’m not an expert on rocks, but I’m guessing they were probably quartz. The whole trail was covered in a layer of them, and they all sparkled. I felt like a princess walking on them. We continued on, and were singing Moby (badly) at the top of our lungs when a heard a gigantic ROAR. I stopped in my tracks terrified. Then I saw cages not far ahead and remembered that we were supposed to pass an area with animals in cages that are being kept as stunt animals for the movies. The roaring stopped soon after we stopped singing. As we approached, we saw a lion, grizzly bears, a cougar, and even a raccoon in the cages. They looked unhappy, pacing about in their tiny cages. I felt bad for them.
Day 113: Mile 230 to Ziggy and the Bear (mile 211), 19 miles
October 22nd- As we walked down the creek further, it became hot as hell. We were descending into the hot, hot desert, and it felt like the hot, hot desert. I constantly felt like I was just over heating and covered in sweat. We came across a wind farm that let hikers fill up water. We went to get water and they invited us into their air-conditioned office building and offered us cold bottled water. This was the best kind of trail magic I could have asked for. We sat there long enough to cool off and rehydrate and then carried on a few more miles in the heat to Ziggy and The Bear, a couple of trail angels who let hikers camp in their back yard. We chatted with Ziggy for a while and she gave us cold sodas, and then The Bear arrived with Chinese food and we were so thankful to eat some real food and chat about The Bear’s career collecting marine animals in Seattle for aquariums and Universities across the USA. I was exhausted and we needed to get up early to put some of these low elevation miles behind us in the coolness of the early morning. We slept under the stars in their backyard.
Day 114: Ziggy and the Bear to Mile 188.5, 22.5 miles
October 23rd– Our alarm was set for 5AM, and I reluctantly got up and started packing up. I was surprised to see The Bear was up to bid us farewell. We headed out in the darkness and hiked across the valley to the next mountain range.
The trail was washed out in many sections in this valley, and we eventually gave up on trying to follow it, and just walked on dirt roads that appeared on our map. Just as it was getting light I was about to step on what I thought was quite a unique looking rock, when I decided to step to one side and take a closer look at it. Thank goodness I did, because what I thought was a rock was actually a rattlesnake curled up in the sand almost flush with the ground. Had it been any darker, and I would have stepped right on top of him.
We took some pictures, and continued on, studying our steps more closely. As it got light and we started climbing, it soon became hotter than hell. Maybe you haven’t checked your elevation profile map of the PCT recently, but if you look at the elevation difference between Mile 211 and Mile 188.5, you’ll notice that there is almost a 8000 ft gain to get up San Jacinto Mnt. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, let me tell you– that’s A LOT. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed that much in one go before in my life, to be honest. For the first 3000 ft or so, it was hot as hell, and there was no shade. The next 1000-2000 ft climb there were short oak trees. These are the kind of oak trees that will leave you covered in scratches without providing an inch of shade. At about 6000 ft, real trees started to appear, pine trees and cedars, and the temperature dropped significantly. The trail was poorly maintained until we got close to the top where they had obviously had started doing something about the poor conditions. A few miles before we were ready to camp, we saw another hiker named Mark who was out for a section hike. He told us there was a very small water source up ahead, which was news to us, since we had carried enough water to make it to Idyllwild. He had thought that since he had found water there, some of the other sources would have water too. No such luck. His mistake meant that he only had around 2 liters of water to make it to the next source, which was only a few miles before Ziggy and the Bear. He was also intending on taking 2 days to do the trek. It was obvious to me that this guy was in trouble. I had just taken one day to do that section, and as a small woman, I had drank probably close to 4 liters. Since there was now water before Idyllwild, I turned to Dirt Stew and said “Do you think we can spare a liter?” He agreed, and we transferred a liter into one of his water bottles before walking on. A minute later I stopped and looked at Dirt Stew again. “I still don’t think he’ll make it, can you go back and give him more water? He needs it more than we do”. Dirt Stew agreed, and we gave him more water to hopefully make it to the next source. We also gave him our contact details so that he could let us know that he made it safely. We have had so much help from strangers- from people leaving us trail magic to hikers offering us food when we were low in the Sierra to being offered someone’s condo to stay in! It was certainly time for us to give back. “You guys are angels.” He said. It really was the least we could do. Us hikers have to look out for each other.
Day 115: Mile 188.5 to Idyllwild, 14 miles
October 24th– We got going with some energy since we knew we’d be getting to town today. The San Jacinto mountains were absolutely beautiful, and we really enjoyed hiking through the trees and the cooler temperatures.
We found the water source that Mark had told us about, and spent a good half hour or more collecting a few liters. It wasn’t the easiest water source to collect from. We had to take a side trail to get down to Idyllwild called the Devils Slide Trail, followed by a road walk into town. We got to town quite early and stopped by a Mexican restaurant in hopes of getting an inexpensive big meal, but in this touristy town even the Mexican restaurant had small portions and the prices were kind of high. Idyllwild is really cute. It’s a mountain town at about 6000ft with tons of little log cabin vacation rental homes and cute touristy shops. We found ourselves a hotel room and did our usual chores before watching a movie and falling asleep.