When I met Janis at the end of Day 15 I found out that a local man and wife, Ray and Janet Drasher, were scouting the Mt. Baden-Powell situation for Trent. They came to the same conclusion as I, that Mt. Baden-Powell was unreasonably dangerous at this time. Trent plans to ride the 19 miles of Hwy 2, while we plan to trailer around to where we can pick up the trail again.
Ray and Janet are graciously let us spend the night and this day off on their property. Ray is very active with the PCTA trail clearing efforts. He packs materials for some projects to where they need to be on his mules. Ray also does a lot of trail clearing in his own right. It has been my pleasure to be able to find out about actual trail conditions from someone who judges with an experienced horseman’s eye. Ray’s knowledge of the trail, conditions and ongoing repair projects for hundreds of miles in either direction and his willingness to share has been invaluable.
Janet has been regaling us with tales of trail riding and desert living as well.
The horses have the run of their round pen; they are making good use of their freedom to roll at will. This afternoon we will leave for the rest of our drive back to the other side of Hwy 2. Spending the night up on the hill will allow for an early start in the morning. Mean while I have the chance to get caught up with an internet connection at hand.
Day 15, mile 0347 to 0369, 20.1 miles, 5:35, 4.5 mph average, minimum elevation 3574, maximum elevation 8461, total ascent 7878, total descent 4970. Total miles traveled 364
Today Mercedes and I traveled up hill, our biggest climb so far, we gained just short of a vertical mile. For the most part the grade was fairly gentle, 2.2% average, but steady. Starting in the desert the trail started climbing immediately. In the early morning sun the wild flowers made the hillside a carpet of color. The long shadows threw the folds of the earth into highlight, a truly lovely time of day. As the mid-day heat drove the flowers under cover, the folds of the earth turned into just another hill to cross on a skinny trail. We crossed a big burn area for several miles; the vegetation is just starting to return. Without the vegetation landslides are numerous and wide, eliminating significant portions of the trail. Where the hillside is sand to larger gravel Mercedes had no problem crossing, much less than hikers who sometimes needed to use their hands to maintain elevation and balance. Mercedes and I would aim a little higher than where one would think the tread should be, each hoof sinking in until the surface under foot compressed enough to hold our weight, making a narrow track across the slide. Where the surface is made up of baseball sized rocks and larger it is not so easy. Rocks want to roll out from under the hooves, clattering down the mountainside, a sound that makes me tense.
Up over 7500 feet we got back into some trees on the northern exposures. With the trees came unmelted snow drifts. Crossing one patch, that was a couple of pick-up lengths wide, Mercedes punched through the ice crust, sinking nearly to her belly. On the next bit of snow she broke through again. When we came to yet more snow, longer and deeper than what we had crossed up to that point, I opted to use a dirt road positioned out in the sun that paralleled the trail. I made the decision then to not ride Mt. Baden-Powell where the trail reaches 9000+ feet. Riding the road around Baden-Powell gets you to the beginning of a long term PCT closure for the protection of yellow legged frog. Riding the road around that equals a total of 19 miles of blacktop. The alternate is a two and a half hour trailer ride. Trailer ride wins.
Day 14, mile 0330 to 0347, 17 miles, 4:15, 4 mph average, minimum elevation 2975, maximum elevation 4144, total ascent 2759, total descent 2508. Total miles traveled 339
Left Silverwood and climbed nearly a thousand feet right off the bat. The brush was pretty thick, I had to stop and cut some small trees (big bushes?) so we could pass. The bushes here have very stiff branches; my shins are taking quite a beating as they always get the first contact. Inevitably my attention will be on keeping a branch from taking my head off, and another branch will sneak in and whack my shin, damn. At the top of the hill the trail crossed a road. I met a volunteer trail clearing team just leaving their truck headed down the way I’d just come from. They told me another group was coming up the hill from the other direction. Indeed, I did meet the other group, one man with a small pruning saw. I could see where he had trimmed the bushes back from the trail in several places.
The rest of the day was fairly clear of brush, as we wound around, up and over more hills, working our way to Cajon Pass on I-15. I was briefly on the historic Route 66. It was at this point on the trail you can stop at a McDonalds and a Best Western, many hikers do. There were separate tunnels to go under I-15 and the mainline railroad tracks. The tunnel under the freeway was rather long and continuously curved; in the center you couldn’t see either end. There was enough light to see, it never got pitch black; the break from the sun was welcoming. BG and I continued a few more yards to the underpass for the railroad, this was a more standard concrete structure just a little more than head high and two sets of tracks wide. Just as we cleared the tracks a freight train came a honking and rushing past. I thought BG might be nervous but she took it in stride.
The last five miles climbed up and over the south side of the San Andreas Fault. I like riding through areas with interesting rock formations, this portion of the trail fits that bill. On the other hand when the trail is narrow, on a steep side hill and you have to cross areas of solid slabs of rock tilting towards the abyss, I get a little nervous. People talk of the Goat Rocks and North Cascades in Washington as being especially challenging it this regard. I am coming to the conclusion the northern trail has nothing on these southern California trails. I think 80% of the trail so far has been, as the endurance folk say, technical.
Day 13, mile 0298 to 0330, 30.2 miles, 6:40, 4.5 mph average, minimum elevation 3009, maximum elevation 4640, total ascent 3398, total descent 4473. Total miles traveled 322
We spent last night at Splinter’s Cabin. The original cabin was built in the 1920’s as a fishing get away, long before there was road access. All materials, concrete, pipe, lumber, furnishings, etc were brought in by pack horse. I don’t remember the builder’s name, however he named the cabin Splinter’s because his wife said anything he built was likely to be splinters. All that is left of the original cabin is the stone foundation walls which are about 4 feet high. The forest service built a roof supported by metal posts they call a gazebo over the walls. Put in a couple of tables and call it a picnic area. Several hikers called it home for the night.
Six hikers, Trent, and I made eight, the exact number of beers in the cooler. I figured that was a sign, so we shared much to the walker’s delight. Janis and I visited for awhile but couldn’t keep pace with the youthful exuberance so we went to take care of the horses before turning in ourselves.
Today was a 32 mile day. The trail was fairly moderate, though it was extremely narrow in places, hugging rock cliffs. At the bottom of the cliff was Deep Creek. About 10 miles into the ride I passed the Deep Creek Hot Springs, clothing optional. The first few pools were a ways below the trail, and well occupied by the optionals. The last pool was much closer to the trail and only being used by young men who were at least partially clothed. I took this opportunity to stop and give a closer examination. Over the years pools have been built around where the hot water comes out of the ground. The one I stopped at was about 8X10, maybe three feet deep and located 10 feet above the creek. The water was not so hot that one could get burned, yet warm enough that a dip in the cold creek would feel good after a 20 minute soak.
I caught up with Trent about three miles out of camp. For the next 10 miles I would ride ahead to a site I thought would make a good picture then wait for him to arrive. I wanted to get to camp before too late so we said our see you laters and went off at our own speeds.
Tonight we are staying at Silverwood Lake State park. The regular horse camp isn’t open yet so they have us stuck off to the side on a dirt road. We tried two different shower houses; apparently the hot water isn’t turned on either. Water got warm for about one minute then went tepid. At eight quarters for four minutes of water, I’m thinking we were short changed!
Day 12; mile 0275 to 0298, 23.9 miles, 4:44 time, 5 mph average, minimum elevation 4577, maximum elevation 7865, total ascent 2072, total descent 4813. Total miles traveled 291.7
Today went pretty easy, mostly a gentle down grade following Holcomb Creek. Started out in the big trees for the first 10 miles. Then we went through a burn area, and that is where conditions started to deteriorate. The PCT up to this far is really driven by and maintained for the hiker. The tread is fairly good however the brush is really only cleared up to about seven feet from the ground. That leaves a lot of hat catchers and face slappers for the equestrian to duck. It really hasn’t been an issue until yesterday as the timber grew thicker and there were more trees over the trail to deal with. Going through the burn the trail is very new and hasn’t had a chance to really pack in. Occasionaly a horse will punch in for a step or two, leaving a hoof sized hole six inches deep or so, sometimes when that happens the horse will give a little stumble. As the trail gets more use all the footprints will pack the tread eliminating these soft spots. After the burn area and going down the creek to camp it was apparent that trail clearing hadn’t happened for a while. Chest impalers and leg rippers were added to the arsenal of vegetation hazards for riders. Lots of down trees across the trail were an issue for everyone. Some we could go over, some we went around and some we had to cut out of the way. Trent was ahead of me today and I could see much evidence of his saw use, cutting hazards out of the way, I had to cut a few more as well. One log I could get over but a stray branch pierced my levis ripping them from pocket to knee, exposing my tender flesh to the ravages of the bush for the last six miles. I hope we don’t run into much more like that as I will have to give up on this trip, I can’t afford the clothes.
Trent ended up here with us tonight, I believe I will go ply him with beer and tequila and tell horse back lies.
Day 11 mile 0252 to 0275, 23.5 miles, 5:56 total time, 4 mph average, minimum elevation 6759, maximum elevation 8686, total ascent 3036, total descent 4156. Total miles traveled 267.8
I started near the day’s high point at Onyx Pass on Hwy 38. Spent most of the day in conifer forest most of the day
and high desert the rest.
At the higher elevation the trees are around 20 feet high at most, in one area the cactus was as tall as the trees.
I did pass through some pretty nice Ponderosa Pine in an area of lower elevation.
Overall it was pretty easy riding, no big climbs on descents. There was a lot of rock on the trail though. So much so that the trail gave the appearance of having been graveled much of the day. Small gravel, well packed made up miles of the trail with short stretches of pit run to slow us down.
At one point I was day dreaming a bit, and wandered off trail. The off trail portion was actually kind of nice, an interesting log to go under, a bridge of dubious structural integrity, and then the trail just petered out. I back tracked to the PCT, I don’t know what I was thinking, I made a hard left turn when going straight would have kept me on track.
There is a sub-set of humans known as trail angels. Trail Angels make Trail Magic. These people provide assistance to hikers out of the goodness of the hearts. Mike back at Chihuahua Rd is an example of a big time trail angel. There are people who live along the trail that invite hikers to camp on their property, people who allow hikers to water from their faucets, some go so far as to offer showers. And then there are a legion of anonymous trail angels who leave water caches along the trail. Some of these caches have been maintained so long that Halfmile lists them in his trail notes. Usually the cache is a few yards off of a road, just far enough it won’t be seen by a casual driver by. Sometime the angel(s) pack water bottles a mile or two, though those caches are of small volume and frequently empty. The cache are mostly very simple, anywhere from a couple of gallons to ten or more, in plastic jugs, tied to a post, tree, or bush to keep the empties from blowing away. Some are more organized, there was one near Anza in a covered kiosk, with four or five shelves each holding ten 2½ gallon water jugs. Sometimes there will be a cooler with apples, oranges or some other treat. One cache I saw today was a metal tool box with an accompanying couch. Although hikers are warned not to count on these caches some do anyway, and when one is empty they can find hard going until the next water.
PS for Ali, I have since learned that the animals are trained and used in tv, movies, commercials, etc.