The Southbound Scoop: What you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound: What you need to know.
 
Everyone’s been asking me to write something about going Southbound (SOBO) since there really isn’t much out there on the subject.  Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences are different, and every year is different as well.  In particular, snow conditions vary from year to year and you should do a lot of your own research on current conditions before heading out.  Usually, the beginning of SOBO season is roughly from mid June to mid July or even later depending on snow, and you’ll likely finish your hike anywhere from October to December depending on your speed and start date.
 
Just to start with, I’ll give you a quick summary of why I think hiking Southbound is awesome and why I think more people should do it with some pros and cons, then I’ll go into the more nitty-gritty of planning a SOBO hike.
 
So…. WHY SOBO??
 
Hiking Southbound is great for many reasons:
1. You’re not going to be hiking in huge herd of hikers.  During my SOBO hike, I only met 7 other SOBO hikers (as opposed to 78 Northbounders (NOBOs) I met in one day).
2.  You’ll start your hike in some of the most beautiful scenery, not in the desert.  Let’s face it, more than half of us quit.  If you quit as a NOBO, you will have hiked in the desert, and not up in Northern Washington.  I’m not trying to dis the desert… the desert is awesome in its own ways but really, Northern Washington is more worth your time.
3. Speaking of the desert.  It is much more pleasant to walk through Southern California (“the desert”) in the late fall (late October/ early November) when the days are shorter and cooler.   Plus by then you’ll be hiking 25-30 miles a day, so you won’t spend as many days in the desert as NOBOs do.
4.  You’ll have much more of a “wilderness” experience going SOBO.  None of this fighting over tent space, falling in and out of cliques or worrying about hostels, hotels and trail angels being packed with hikers.  You’ll get a much more personal experience with towns and with Trail Angels.  You won’t need to worry about someone walking up on you while you’re peeing or whatever else you need to do while there’s no coverage.  For those of you East Coast hikers, let me warn you– much of the PCT is pretty “open”. There aren’t many trees or bushes, which is great for views and such, but for finding a spot to dig a hole and minding your business? Not so much.  I often times wondered how NOBOs found any privacy.
5.  You’ll get bugs in Washington, but not so much in Oregon where they’re supposedly worse.  You definitely won’t get bugs in the Sierras, so you’ll be able to enjoy your breaks at the gorgeous lakes up there.
6.  You’ll be following leave-no-trace ethics by not hiking the trail during the most high traffic times (which is normal NOBO season and summer holidays).  During your hike you’ll realize how much impact hikers have on the trail, especially by talking to locals in town about what it is like during NOBO season.
7.  You will always be walking up the northern face (colder and shaded), and down the southern face (hotter, and sunnier).  You’ll appreciate this on hot days.  Carrying an umbrella is helpful since you’ll be walking into the sun most of the time.
 
Hiking Southbound may not be for you if:
1. You’re not ready to hit the ground running.  Unlike going NOBO where you have the desert to “warm up” with, since there is no real time-frame for hiking in the desert, you’ll need to hit the ground running from day one.  Just as it is for Northbounders hiking from the beginning of the Sierras once the snow is manageable until the Canadian border, before the snow hits again in the fall (roughly 2000 miles), you’ll have the same time crunch.  You’ll be hiking in Northern Washington just as the snow is melting up there, and trying to make it through the Sierra before the snow hits again in the fall.  October 1st is a good date to aim to be at Forester Pass.  The only difference is you’ll get to “cool down” with the desert  with no real time restraints, rather than having the desert as a “warm-up.”
2.  You want to hike with groups of people and make lots of friends. If you’re more into the social aspect of the trail, SOBO may not be for you.  You’ll still meet people, but it won’t be the social scene that hiking NOBO probably is.  But maybe you’ll spend less time and money in town as a result.
 
SNOW:
Before you start the trail: check snowtel: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/ and pct website: http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps-and-guidebooks/ for current snow conditions.  I recommend not starting your hike until after the level of snow at Harts Pass has reached 0 inches.  I’d even wait a while after that.  Don’t think this’ll mean you won’t be hiking on snow.  No matter how late you start, you’ll be hiking on snow.  If you get going once the level at Harts Pass reaches 0 inches, the passes you’ll be going over for the next several hundred miles will be completely covered in snow, and unless you have some significant snow experience, or you’re simply not afraid of death or heights, you’ll probably have a few “what the fuck am I doing!?” moments.  So prepare for it.  Also, make sure the road to Harts Pass is open before you drive out there.  The people at Mazama at Goats Beard can help you figure that out.
 
Keep in mind that every year is different when it comes to snow, and a low snow year in the Sierra often times means a high year in the Cascades and visa verse.  It helps to talk to locals- preferably hikers.  Ranger stations have limited knowledge for some reason, and we’ve gotten some bad advice.  Talk to Andrea Dinsmore, the Trail Angel in Northern Washington.  She’s not a hiker, but she’ll know if it’s a high snow year or a low one.  From her experience hosting hikers, and being involved in search and rescue she’ll be able to give you some basic advise.
 
In a normal or high snow year, I would recommend the following gear: ice axe, crampons or microspikes (don’t go with yak-tracks or anything else that’s only really for walking on icy sidewalks), GPS, compass, map, and personal locator beacon.  If you want specific recommendations, let me know, but any and all of these could save your life on the snow.  Also, learn some snow skills before you get out there.  There is no use having an ice axe if you have no idea how to use it.  Google “self arrest” and watch some videos then go out and practice on a snowy slope.  You will need the skills before you have a good chance to practice them on trail.  The Northern Cascades are very rugged and actually quite different from the Sierra, and you’ll want to have practiced in a safe environment before you show up.  Here’s a good learning video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94QFImjdEAo.  Learn to walk in crampons or microspikes- in particular, learn to kick steps.  Learn to self belay.  There are great videos on all these techniques.  Learn about cornices, snow/ice bridges and post-holing.  As you gain experience on snow, you’ll slowly learn how different snow feels beneath you.  The snow will be harder in the morning and softer in the afternoon. You’re more likely to post-hole through soft snow, and you can injure yourself on rocks, sticks, etc that are under the snow.
 
In Northern Washington you’ll spend a significant amount of time traversing steep slopes and avalanche chutes covered in snow. You’ll be looking hundreds and sometimes almost a thousand feet down on one side and kicking steps into the mountain and you’ll be holding your ice axe in your uphill hand and your trekking pole in your downhill hand.  Estimate that hiking in snow will take you twice as long as normal hiking.  If you’re walking on 50-100% snow, you should plan for 10 to 15 mile days.  Best to plan for 10 miles a day when it comes to food.  The one thing in your favor here is the sunlight.  You’ll be starting your hike at the peak of the summer with the most amount of daylight, and you’ll need it!  Luckily your appetite won’t kick in for the first week or two, so you’ll get away with carrying a little less than you would otherwise, but nonetheless, you should over-pack on food, because that will be your limiting factor.  Many people going southbound in 2014 had to push hard to make it through the Glacier Peak Wilderness before they ran out of food.  We just underestimated the snow.  I never thought it could take me 15 or 16 hours to go 11 miles.  Kicking steps takes time, and navigating takes time too.  Once you get past the snow, you will be done with the hardest part of the trail.  Once you hit solid ground, it’ll feel like you’re floating along watching the beautiful scenery go by and you’ll be loving your thru-hike.
 
Starting the trail:
 
First of all you’ll need to get to the beginning of the trail, which is at the Canadian border.  There are practically speaking two ways of doing this, but legally speaking only one.  You can either hike north from Harts Pass or Route 20 (Rainy Pass) to the border to start your southbound hike, or enter from Manning Park in Canada.  It it illegal to enter into the United States from Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and at least one hiker has wound up in jail for attempting this… not a great way to start your hike.  For that reason I recommend starting at Harts Pass.  To start your hike, go to Seattle, and find someone willing to drive you to Hart’s Pass, then hike north to the border.  If it’s a high snow year consider alternatives.  Hiking on the PCT isn’t the only way to hike from Canada to Mexico.  A great low elevation alternative is to hike along Ross Lake to reach the Canadian Border.  Then you can follow Panther Creek Trail and Thunder Creek Trail going over Park Creek Pass, which will have snow on it.  A map will be your friend here.  Get permits with the local ranger stations here because you’ll be in a National Park, and you’re required to have them.  Stash food at route 20 (we did so in a bear canister), then your next resupply will be in Stehekin.  It’s a short distance from route 20 to Stehekin (2-3 days at most), and if you used one, you can mail your bear canister home at Stehekin.
 
Bugs and rodents:
 
The worst bugs you’ll encounter on the PCT are mosquitoes.  There are many types along the PCT, and you’ll slowly learn their behaviors as you move from one type of mosquitoes territory to another.  The clouds of mosquitoes will start with you in Northern Washington.  They basically hatch right out of the snow.  You’ll be concentrating on kicking a step and not falling several hundred feet to your death, and suddenly you’ll hear “bzzzzzzz….” in your ear.  If you have a bug phobia now’s probably the time to start practicing meditation.  At least the mosquitoes in Washington are relatively slow compared to the ones in Oregon.  You have a chance in outrunning them, particularly once you hit solid ground.  The ones in Oregon can land on you while you’re at a dead out sprint, I’m not kidding you.  And wind?  No problem.  They’ll find you in 50 mph gusts.  Then in Southern Oregon you’ll meet another bread that aren’t as fast as their Central Oregon relatives, but for what they lack in speed, they make up for in size.  You’ll be slightly afraid of squishing these pterodactyl-like mosquitoes for the mess that they will leave behind.  Luckily by the time you hit the Sierra, there will be not a mosquito in sight, and you can dilly-dally at lakes taking thousands of pictures.
Also a note on mice – we were told by locals that mice would be a big problem in the Cascades of Washington.  For the most part, they weren’t since we were on snow, but when we got to lower elevation, Dirt Stew was kept up by them running on the tent netting above his head.  There is dense vegetation here, so tent sites are quite established.  Some people have had mice chew through their tents and/or food bags.
 
Weather:
 
Although you’ll be starting with snow on the ground, it won’t be as cold as winter hiking.  In late June early July up in Washington it could get down to roughly freezing, but that’s about as low as it will get.  You may wind up camping on snow, and my recommendation is to cut a few small pieces of blue foam (the kind you find at Walmart), and put those pieces under your butt and shoulders to insulate you from the snow.  Use these in conjunction with your normal sleeping pad.  You can also use these pieces to wrap your crampons in during the day.  Most likely it will be fairly warm during the day, and as a result you’ll be watching the snow melt.  We had a week or more in the 90’s and got completely sun burnt by hiking on the snow in bright sunshine.  Beware of this!  Sunscreen SPF 50 was not even enough.  Sunglasses, sunscreen, and eventually covering every square inch in clothing became absolutely necessary.
 
Through Central Oregon and Northern California our 10 and 20 degree sleeping bags were too warm, and if we had decided to switch to lighter ones, this would have been the right time to do so.  If I had done this, I would maybe have sent my lighter sleeping bag to Crater Lake, and then sent it back in favor of the warmer one at Truckee or Sierra City.
 
If you’re a normal hiker, I think you’ll do fine with a 20 degree bag for the whole trail.  The coldest temperatures for our hike happened in the High Sierra in mid to late September.  It went below freezing almost every night, probably into the low 20’s (just a guess, I didn’t have a thermometer).  I’m always cold, so I choose a 10 degree bag, and I know some who sleep more on the warm side who got away with a 30 degree bag.  I would send any extra warm clothing to Tuolumne Meadows, and then send it home again at Kennedy Meadows South.  I was happy to have an extra down jacket for this section.
 
We wound up keeping our warmer clothing through the desert because we did not know what to expect, but it did not get below freezing for us in the desert.  We were slightly ahead of the southbound “herd” and for some behind us, it did get slightly cooler, and in some of the higher mountains of the desert it could easily snow in late October or early November.  We finished our hike in early November, and never saw snow in the desert.  You can expect some hot sections where the trail is low in elevation (e.g Cajon Pass, and hiking along the Aquaduct), but there is also plenty of high elevation hiking in the desert which doesn’t really feel like desert at all and will be a refreshing change.
 
Water:
 
All PCT hikers worry about water.  For Southbounders, water starts becoming an issue in Oregon and continues through parts of Northern California, and then again in Southern California.  Water sources during the summer of 2014 were particularly unpredictable because of the drought conditions.  Data seemed often times unreliable, and “seasonal” water was sometimes running while rivers and streams were not.  My suggestion is to try to carry enough water to make it two water sources away, although this isn’t always feasible, and many UL hikers resent carrying too much water.  But I have to say, it really sucks when you run out of water and then you reach a dry water source.  After the Sierra, the Water Report becomes your bible.   Print out the latest version in each town you get to.  The website is www.pctwater.com.  Once you get to the desert, you’ll find water relatively easy to deal with because of the Water Report, having already done 30 mile water-less stretches.  I seriously think water is more of an issue for NOBO’s because they’re starting their hike in the desert and fighting for resources.
 
Sierra Resupply
 
On your South Bound hike, depending on your hiking speed, some places in the Sierras may close down before you reach them.  Definitely call in advance to find out the closing dates of Kennedy Meadows North, Tuolumne Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort, Muir Ranch, and Kennedy Meadows South.  The closing dates vary from year to year, and also are affected by snow.  An early snow storm may cause them to close early.  It is not impossible to through-hike without these resupply stops.  You can hike out at Mammoth/ Reds Meadow, Whitney Portal (you need a permit), and Independence/Kearsarge Pass regardless of time of year.
 
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.  I’m going to convert this blog post into a page on this website, and the more information the better.  When we did research for our hike, information was very limited.  We had no idea where we’d find the mosquitoes, and so we sent bug netting to Oregon.  Thank goodness for Andrea Dinsmore and her collection of old gear.  We also surveyed the Southbounders we met along the way to try to determine what the desert would be like.  We had imagined that it would get very very cold at night, but in fact it never did.  I really hope that more people decide to go Southbound.  With increasing numbers of hikers on the trail, it only makes sense to spread ourselves out and minimize our impact on the trail.
Here is another resource for Southbounders made by 2016 hikers:  https://www.pctsouthbound.com/
Happy Trails!
Random picture from Sierra

Random picture from Sierra

Summary of our Pacific Crest Trail SOBO hike 2014 in numbers

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:

IMG_1576

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.

< a href=”https://just2hikers.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/img_1498.jpg”&gt;IMG_1498

Ashland to Etna (making up missed miles)

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.

Burn areas in the Marbles

Burn areas in the Marbles

November  6th:
The night before we started hiking we met another PCT hiker who was also a ranger in this area named Ken.  We were given his information by Halfmile, who met him during his NOBO hike.  When we called Ken, he immediately offered to shuttle us around to do this section, and told us the conditions of the trail (no snow..!)  We met Ken and several of his daughters in a Starbucks in Yreka, and were invited to spend the night.  Ken and his family are all crazy in a really awesome way.  Ken had let us into his life at a ridiculous time: his first grandchild was born today, and they were all going back and forth to the hospital.  Then we heard about his other daughter’s 5 year plan– even crazier!  She plans on doing the triple crown (AT, PCT, CDT) and the 7 summits (tallest point on all 7 continents) from sea level.  She’s already done the AT and PCT, and is working on the 7 summits by going with Ken to Africa in just a week or so’s time to climb Kilimanjaro. Amazing!  We agreed to get up early to depart Ken’s place to get to Ashland to resume our hike where we left off many months ago.
Day 124: Mile 1727 to Mile 1699.5, 27.5 miles
November 7th:
We got up at 5:30AM and Ken drove us in our car out to Ashland.  We thanked him and got on our way.  As we walked away, the thought only just occurred to us: Were we crazy for giving the keys to a car we just bought to someone we only just met the day before?  They already felt like good friends, and we certainly weren’t as crazy as they were!
As we entered the forest once again, we were overwhelmed by how green everything was.  Everything was wet too.  There were ferns and huge carnivores surrounding us.  What a change from the desert.  And no sand!  Solid ground!  No sun!  In fact we were hiking through a huge fog bank.  We hiked uphill for quite a ways and over the fog to see some amazing views.
Fog in the Oaks
We hiked well past dark– dark comes now around 5:30PM.  The moon was full and we didn’t even need our headlamps unless we were in thick trees.  My hips started to hurt, but I expected this as previously taking rest days had aggravated the pain in my hips.  We camped half a mile away from the Oregon border.
Day 125: Mile 1699.5 to Mile 1672.5, 27 miles
November 8th:
First thing in the morning we hit the Oregon/California border.  It was great to finally finish the state of Oregon, as we had only 28 miles left when we had to skip ahead, and it always nagged us that Oregon had been left incomplete.  We signed the register, and noticed that the last hiker through there was Buddy Backpacker (a family hiking with their 6 year old) roughly 5 days ago.
It took a long time to finish Oregon

It took a long time to finish Oregon

As the wet season was just starting, water sources are kind of hard to predict.  There is plenty of water, but it is just hard to tell which sources will be running, and which won’t.
We get beautiful views of Mount Shasta in the distance covered in snow
Lenticular Clouds over Mt Shasta

Lenticular Clouds over Mt Shasta

My hips continued to hurt, but I had hope that maybe it would only take a few days for them to work themselves out again.
Again we hiked well past dark, and as the moon was rising, it looked almost like a sunset, only darker.  Looking down into the darkness I noticed stars reflecting off of a lake.  It was magical.
Day 126: Mile 1672.5, to Mile 1652, 20.5 miles
November 9th:
We got amazing views in the morning with the sunrise over blankets of fog in the valley.
Shasta in the morning

Shasta in the morning

IMG_4402
Fog islands

Fog islands

We descended into the fog to get to Seiad Valley, and all of the vegetation was wet from it.  Spider webs were covered in drops of water, as were my eyelashes quickly became as well.
Spider web in the fog

Spider web in the fog

Walking down into fall

Walking down into fall

We hiked through an old burn area with many downed trees, and Dirt Stew and I were able to move several of the smaller ones that were blocking the trail.
We got to town and went into the cafe and ordered burgers for lunch.  We got chatting with a couple of locals, Bill and Peggy, who had done various parts of the PCT on horseback.
Seiad Diner conversation

Seiad Diner conversation

 It was really great to talk to them about the intricacies of doing the trail on horse.  For example, I had no idea that horses do not understand that an approaching hiker is simply another person until they say something.  That explains why horsemen sometimes shout at us from far away.  We thought it was weird that they didn’t just wait until they were closer to have a conversation so that we could actually hear them.  In fact, they were just trying to prove to their horse that we were just humans and not monsters.  Especially hikers wearing big packs or carrying an umbrella.  Suddenly they look like a 7 foot tall monster.  And then if the hiker stands on the uphill side… then they’re a 10 ft tall monster.  And if they step to one side and quietly stand behind a tree… the horse is just waiting for the 10 ft tall monster to jump out from behind the tree.  And the horseman is then sitting on hundreds of pounds of dynamite.  Then it turned out that they were good friends with Ken.  Oh small towns…
Post Office at Siead Valley

Post Office at Siead Valley

Heart of the State of Jefferson

Heart of the State of Jefferson

We resupplied and hiked out, walking 6 miles on a road before reentering the woods.  Here the forest was hit by the recent burn.  Everything was burnt for miles and miles.  As we hiked into the dark, we noticed that one tree that was reduced to just the trunk was still smoking.
Smoking Tree

Smoking Tree

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

We set up camp near the stream that we had been climbing up next to for many miles, for lack of a better place, and of course camping near water means a cold night.
Day 127: Mile 1652 to Mile 1627, 25 miles
November 10th:
As we continued through the burned area, we came across several bridges that were burnt.  One was still passable, and another was completely burnt out, and we had to ford.
Bridge out in Marbles

Bridge out in Marbles

Dirt Stew tried to rock hop across, but the rocks were slippery, and he fell straight into the stream.  Luckily, it wasn’t too high, but he lost his sunglasses in the process, and of course got wet.  I looked upstream for a place to cross, and thought I found a better spot to rock hop.  I stood on a rock for a while trying to plan my jump, when I decided to signal to Dirt Stew to bring me another pole.  Since the stream was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other, and I was trying to gesture to let him know what I wanted.  He was gesturing something back, but I couldn’t tell what.  Eventually he made his way over begrudgingly and handed me the pole.  Unfortunately, it didn’t help, and I also slipped on a rock, getting both my feet wet.  He had tried to tell me that navigating over to me would be more dangerous than simply having me ford, and I should just get my feet wet.  Having not been able to properly communicate with each other, we were both irritated and annoyed with each other.  It didn’t help my mood that my hips were not getting any better, in fact they hurt more than ever.  I wanted to quit, but with so few miles left… it seemed dumb to do so.
Burn area in Marbles

Burn area in Marbles

Every day was getting colder, and even at 1PM the ground was frozen in many places.  Ponds were freezing over as well.  Luckily we were hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery, and I was happy we were able to see it at last.  The Marble Mountains were rugged, and full of great views.  At one point I saw a bear galloping away from us on an adjacent ridge.  We chose our campsite carefully as it was obviously going to be a very cold night.  I was afraid that we would have another cold night.  I wanted to make sure that we would get a good night’s sleep.
Marble Mountain Wilderness cold and wild

Marble Mountain Wilderness cold and wild

Day 128: Mile 1627 to Mile 1606, 21 miles
November 11th:  Last night was cold, but we both wore all of our clothing and kept warm.  Dirt Stew decided to tie a fleece around his waist and put his long underwear on over top of that to keep his butt warm.  The night before his cold butt kept him from sleeping soundly.
Clouds were starting to accumulate.  We were told that some weather was coming our way by in the next day.  It certainly was cold.  We bundled up, and hiked towards the road to Etna.  Water bodies were especially cold.  We passed “freeze-your-butt-off lake” which was freezing over, followed by “freeze-your-butt-off pond” with a complete layer of ice on the surface, and “freeze-your-butt-off stream” complete with rocks covered in ice.
Shasta in the morning

Shasta in the morning

The Marble rocks

The Marble rocks

Unfortunately, my hips hurt like hell.  It was obvious to me now that there was no way we would finish this entire section.  I could not imagine doing another 100 miles.  I could barely imagine making the 20 miles to the road.  Time slowed down as the pain escalated.  Every mile was a struggle.  By the time we got to the road, all I wanted was to lay on something soft and not move for a week.  We got to the road right before dusk, and it was getting so cold and windy.  We hoped that someone would pick us up soon as we waited with our thumbs up by the side of the road.  A truck stopped, and the guy got out, holding a can of beer, and after finishing it and throwing the can into the truck-bed, he invited us in.  We threw our gear in the back, and nervously got in.  He was actually a good driver (for once).  He was a logger, and worked in the woods on the other side of Etna Summit.  He dropped us off at the Etna Brewery, and we called Ken.
Ken and his wife were out somewhere visiting one of their daughters, but told us our car was at their place, and we were welcome to stay in their house even though they weren’t there.  As we were on the phone with Ken, his wife was busy calling people in Etna, and managed to find someone else they knew in the Brewery that we were in who could give us a ride.  As Dirt Stew hung up the phone, he said “so… we’re supposed to talk to that woman over there who’s going to give us a ride to their place where we can stay…”  I raised my eyebrows and smiled.  He leaned in looking around and whisper “it’s unlocked…!”  Oh small towns….
We got a ride to Ken’s house, and took an amazing shower and then jumped in their hot tub.  I was so happy not to be walking anymore.  My hips were destroyed.  But hey, we once again hiked to a hot tub!  We were both very tired from our last stretch we were eager to get to sleep early.  As I lay down in the comfortable bed and closed my eyes, I thought about how we wouldn’t be spending another night on the PCT.  Not this year at least.  With just around 100 miles left, I had no regrets.  I knew we were making the right decision to call it quits right here.

Idyllwild to Julian

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.

Huge burger!

Huge burger!

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.

Mary, trying to plant a Cottonwood

Mary, trying to plant a Cottonwood

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.

Enemy #1

Enemy #1

A relative of Enemy #2

A relative of Enemy #2

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!

Discussing the Idyllwild fire closure

Discussing the Idyllwild fire closure

“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.

Lawrence the spring guy, Dormouse and Dirt Stew at the Warner Spring's Community Center

Lawrence the spring guy, Dormouse and Dirt Stew at the Warner Spring’s Community Center

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?

Coyote, hunting in broad day-light in the middle of town.

Coyote, hunting in broad day-light in the middle of town.

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.

Scorpion!

Scorpion!

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.

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock

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.

Enemy #3, don't sit on one of these guys, not even a small one.

Enemy #3, don’t sit on one, not even a little one.

Sign for "third gate" Water Cache

Sign for “third gate” Water Cache

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.

Soon to be Enemy #4?

Soon to be Enemy #4?

Cajon Pass to Idyllwild

Highlights: As we continue to hike the desert section of the PCT, we are enjoying the sections that are less desert-like, and melting in the sections that are at lower elevation.  We were surprised by personal trail magic; hiked up the Deep Creek area where weekenders trashed the area around the hot springs. We stopped in Big Bear, and lost most of a day waiting for our packages, then stopped at Ziggy and the Bear before hiking up into the San Jacinto Mountains.  We are now spending the night in Idllywild!

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.

Rocks and powerlines

Rocks and powerlines

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.

Did someone mention McDonnalds..?

Did someone mention McDonalds..?

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”

We hiked out and were thankful for some fog for the first half of the day, and soon got to a lake.  What a concept!  A lake with water?  We hadn’t seen one of those in a while.
A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

A lake with water in it? In the desert? Wow!

We took water from the lake, but were very sad to see that around the lake was mostly trashed. People had gone so far as to dump whole trash bags full of trash by the lake.  Disgusting.  We hiked past dark, which is now our usual routine, and I was very thankful that my hips were not too sore.

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!

Amazing trail magic

Amazing trail magic

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.

And nature without graffiti..?

And nature without graffiti..?

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

October 20th- After sleeping a ton, I was ready to get going again.  The only problem was that our packages had not yet been brought to the hostel by the owner.  Nobody was up, and we hadn’t done our laundry the night before, so we decided to do that while we waited.  We waited and waited.  Once other people started go get up, we asked about our packages.  We were assured the owner would arrive by 10AM.  We reluctantly waited.  10AM passed, 11AM passed.  Apparently this guy didn’t value our time.  Eventually around noon, our packages showed up.  We got a great care package from our friend Mike who sent us cookies, removable tattoos and pages of facts, song lyrics, poems, etc.  Finally we would keep our minds more active while we hiked!
Care package from Mike!

Care package from Mike!

We started eating the cookies and then we realized we were actually hungry again.  We decided we may as well find a place to get a decent meal before we left town.  We found a burger place and Dirt Stew ordered a chicken pot pie while I ordered a burger.  The waitress was impressed that Dirt Stew finished his dish.  Apparently most don’t, but of course for him it wasn’t a problem.  He was soon munching on Mike’s cookies again.  We got a ride from a very nice lady who happened to be originally from Virginia back to the trail, and soon ran into a couple sitting eating snacks, looking a lot like long distance hikers.  We asked them what their story was, and they had flip-flopped from Big Bear and were finishing up their hike.  We were pretty surprised to see new hikers.  We finally found a nice spot under a cedar and set up camp.

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.

Cages with animals

Cages with animals

We continued on down a valley where the trail had quite a bit of poodle dog bush, and was washed away in many spots where it crossed a stream.  Normally this wouldn’t be so frustrating, but we were losing the trail frequently, and we were supposed to be mapping it for Halfmile’s project.  Every time I tried to go ahead to find where the trail went and then summon Dirt Stew with the GPS unit to follow me.  It took much longer than had we not cared and just followed the stream bush-waking wherever we wanted.  We kept ourselves entertained by learning the state capitals, one of the pages of facts that Mike had printed out and put in our care package.  I liked spending some of our hiking time learning, and wished I had thought of this earlier.  We continued by learning the lyrics to “Let It Be”.  We decided to camp before dark so as not to try to find the fairly missing trail in the darkness.

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.

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

Dormouse, The Bear, Ziggy

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.

Desert Valley

Desert valley at sunrise

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.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

Rattle snake disguised as a rock.

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.

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

Wonderful trees at high elevation!

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.

Beautiful trees!

Beautiful trees!

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.