Day 7. Great Urban Hiking


Distance Hiked: about 10 miles

Slept way in after our late night of poker and beer. Had a huge sandwich at Jr Sr’s and then left to the trail at noon. I have accumulated an extra day into my schedule by having larger mileage than expected days so now I’m slowing down. I’ll only be hiking about 5 hours today and then getting a hotel, leaving me with about 12 miles or so tomorrow to the Pacific Ocean. 

Finally off of utility roads, the trail heads almost directly west towards the coast from here. It rained last night so the ground was moist and the air was full of planty smells. Some of the trail was also very eroded by the water. But it’s sure nice to be on single track!

Sweet single track 

Offices and shopping centers in the distance! 

Prickly pear flower!

Nobody is licking any white dog turds! 

Costco is just a half mile or so from here! 

The castor bean. This plant grows all over subtropical parts of the world as a weed. It is also the source of the toxin ricin. Ricin is one of the most toxic chemicals produced by any plant. A few grains of salt worth of ricin is enough to kill a person. It’s also been used as a chemical weapon. In World War I the United States looked into coating bullets and bomb shrapnel with ricin so that even a normally non-leathal wound would lead to death by poisoning. Thankfully this never made it into any battlefields. More notably in 1978, a Bulgarian dissident and writer was assasinated by Bulgarian secret police who had modified an umbrella to shoot a small pellet laced with ricin into the man’s leg. The man died a few days later, unaware that he had even been shot by a pellet, which was found upon an autopsy. Humans are always willing to find new ways to kill each other. 

Under the highway 

Eucalyptus flowers

So ummm, where ya hiking?
One of the great things about urban hiking is that you have many opportunities to get to food from stores. This leads to very lightweight packs and warm food and sugary soda all day ūü§ď

7-Eleven food and Dr. Pepper break! 

The evening went through wet meadows 

Near the big bridge was a little memorial area with rocks with people’s faces and names on them. 

Ran into a bunch of teenagers hanging out under the bridge, many had climbed way up on the arches. Typical hangout places 

Some of the bridges have been washed out. Is a bit of a jump to keep dry feet. 

After I got about half a mile past the highway overpass, I was able to walk up to a road that meets up with Mercy rd. a busy street next to neighborhood. I got an Uber and within 10 minutes I was on my way to the hotel for the night! And just in time too as it began to storm and downpour all night long. A Carl’s Jr. right next to my hotel became my feeding grounds. Next I slumber. 

Day 6. The Descent 


Miles hiked: about 18

I slept in for once! Got up and out and hiking just after sunrise. Probably for the best, make it easier to see where I’m bushwhacking. Thankfully all the shrubs from this point on were hip height or lower! Making for much easier and less frustrating hiking. To make things even better, someone marked the “trail” with some cairins, though it was obvious where the peak was. 

I like that boulder, that is a nice boulder.

A party balloon near the summit of El Cajon. When they fly away, the end up somewhere, I often find them in bushes in the desert.

A few feet from the peak I stepped on a rock which moved and made another rock smack me right in the ankle which hurt like hell. Luckily it only hurt for a few minutes before I forgot about it. The summit was beautiful. Silent except for a cool breeze. I stayed up here enjoying the highest I’d be for the rest of the trail. The Pacific Ocean clearly visible, with some big rocky islands off shore also in the distance. 

The hike down was well marked but holy hell was it steep. The steepest marked trail I think I’ve ever been on. Glad I had my trekking poles to take the strain off my legs. I passed two older ladies in their 60’s that stank of some dank weed cruising up the mountain, then I started passing lots of folks as I neared the trailhead. Just as I reached the pit toilet and water faucet near the trailhead, I got service on my phone and a message from Jr Sr from the Pacific Crest Trail saying he was down to meet up and hang out! I forgot he lived in San Diego! Hell yea I wanna hang out with Jr Sr! So after I get done hiking today I’ll call him and he is going to swoop me up.

Very rugged and steep trail down! Is would be one hell of a day hike!

Rather eroded 

This mushroom was under the chaparral all over he area 

After the trailhead, I walked down wildcat canyon road instead of bothering jumping around through neighborhoods again. It was a pretty busy road with a small shoulder some of the time. It’s kinda interesting what things people throw out the window. Tons of mixed CDs, one says 2009 pop. Of course I kept this one. It looks dirty and scratched as hell but I really liked that year. I also came across literally hundreds of Pok√©mon cards. Someone had just been throwing out bags of them. I sound them strewn over several miles, with big bunches of them in spots. There was also the usual trash, tons of casino cards, booze bottles, fast food, etc. 

After wildcat, the road went into a small community with lots of horses. I walked a quarter mile off to a Circle K and got a big hotdog and a sprite. Sweet sweet sugar water. Back in the road it was a very pleasant walk past all these houses and horse fields. I wrote a blog post along the walk. The trail then goes past some industrial park and then meets highway 67. I walked along the highway up the hill for several miles. I was pretty happy to get off the highway and onto some utility road that went into the chapparal. It was easy hiking but I started feeling sketchy. These looked like roads that go to some backcountry houses. I could hear cars driving around on the roads and didn’t want to be seen so I hid behind a bush and watched. Turns out it was a construction crew working on the highway below. I walked right past them and they hardly looked up at me. I called Jr Sr for that pick up and he started heading my way. I reached a fork in the road where I could be easily picked up. I hid up the hill from an intersection and watched the people from my hiding spot for half an hour.

I hope it works! 

Spirit left my spirit animal 

Walking a few miles on the highway

Walking utility roads

Jr Sr showed up and we were off for a night off trail! He’s such a funny guy. A dog trainer, gambler and magician. Always looking for the next hustle. We first head to the YMCA where his buddy was practicing some soccer moves and we join him for a session. Ricocheting the ball and just messing around for about an hour. Then we go to have a feast at Costco. They have crazy deals at the food court and we eat huge pizza slices, hotdogs and churros. I’m so happy and fed. Next stop is Jr’s buddies bar that he’s an investor in. We get hooked up with beers and then play cards all night! I love playing cards, is a family tradition at the Berger’s. We play hold em, gin rummy and Egyptian ratscrew for hours. It’s a great time. We get tired and head back to Jr Sr’s house and hit the hay. 

Jr Sr!

Day 5. Bushwhacking


Distance Hiked: about 29 miles

I fell asleep quickly for once last night but woke up ice cold and shaking. I hoped it was at least 2 a.m. It was just 10 p.m. My sleeping pad had almost no effect against the icy ground. It was cold to the touch. I sat up and warmed up pretty quick. The air isn’t unbearably cold, it’s just the ground sucking my heat away. I can’t stand 8 more hours of cold and shaking so I formulate a new plan. There’s still a good bit of traffic on the main road here, I could hitch into Julian but I don’t know where to stay. Because I have no phone service and none of the wifi networks at the restaurant, campground or tackle shop work, I can’t look up prices for hotel rooms. My only alternative is that the public bathroom for the campground is open. So that’s where I go. It’s not heated at all, but it blocks the wind which has been getting stronger. Also the ground in there is dry and not made of ice. 

I set up my sleeping pad and quilt on the ground near the sink and fall asleep fast. Wake up and it’s 4 a.m. Yes! Finally some good sleep! By then I’m shivering here too. It it’s so close to morning that I hold out until 4:45 when I pack up all my gear. 

The morning hike is cold and my hands are bright red. The hike to engineer road is lined with big oak trees, manzanitas and other shrubs I don’t recognize. 

Once the trail met engineer road, it was roads all day. Walking down down down the mountain, there were some Coulter Pines growing along the road. These trees are super cool and notable for having the heaviest pinecones in the world at up to 11 lbs! They’re dense like a block of wood and have jagged spines on them to boot! These trees have a very small natural range and only exist in isolated groves in California. They also occur along the Pacific Crest Trail where I found some even bigger cones in 2014. I also wrote a blog post about them which you can read here >>>> Coulter Pine

Coulter Pinecone near Cuyamaca Woods. This is a “small” one this one was about 4 lbs

Here’s a bigger one I found in 2014 on the PCT.
And an even bigger one from the PCT!!!
Little skinny acorns are new to me! I’ll have to look up what species this is. 

A cool burl on an oak

The trail briefly enters the Inaja Indian Reservation for a few miles. I didn’t see anyone around here and only a few isolated houses, one with all the windows smashed in.  

After walking through some ranch land, the road meets trail for a short stint that descends to cedar creek waterfalls and the back up and out to civilization. The trail here is well maintained and cruiser. Had a good time flying down the mountain and had a snack at the bottom. After that I ran into a fair amount of day hikers heading down to the waterfalls. I listened to Disney songs and flew up the mountain. At the crest of the hill, you can see a building and a bunch of palm trees. Right over the top you get a view of a bunch of houses and roads that lead towards the city. I eat lunch at the picnic table there and use the pit toilet which is the cleanest one I’ve ever used. 

The trail skirts down the mountain to the valley floor and up to the left

A very cartoony cactus

This is where the day took a turn for the stressful. I followed the trail on a bunch of dirt roads that went into rural neighborhoods and then the route the trail takes on my maps and gps end at a guys house. The gps track takes you right into his fenced backyard where a bunch of adolescent emus or ostriches were running around. He’s also got a sign that says no trespassing right on the fence. It looks like the road used to connect to another road there but you can’t get to it without hopping in people’s yards with beware of dog signs. I say what the hell and have to backtrack a half mile to get to an alternate route that drops behind the people’s houses on national forest property. You’re free to walk wherever you want there, but unfortunately it’s a bushwhack with steep terrain and many gullies had formed from water rushing down any topography. These were hard to get into because thy were filled with shrubs and loose rock. I walked around awhile at the first one trying to find a way into it. Just as I was getting frustrated, a coyote appeared and looked at me, it was on the same side of the gully as me and then ran down into it and right up the other side in almost sheer scree! I followed where he want and then slid down the gully and walked right up the steep scree too! It looked too steep to climb but you could dig into the loose wet scree pretty well and climb out! My spirit animal showed me the way. I went in and out of about 10 gullies like this before I finally made it back to the truck trail away from private property. 

I followed this trail into the evening and planned to camp where I saw a nice flat spot on my map before the steep bushwhack up El Cajon Mountain in the morning. Before I could get there though,  the road was blocked by a gate saying private property, beware of dog. It was getting late and now I was worried I wouldn’t find a flat spot before dark. The alternative route was to follow the spine of the mountain for a mile and a half or so. This was the thickest of all the bushwhacking which dense shrubs 10 feet high. After shredding my arms and legs for over an hour I could see a spot where I could drop back to the truck trail on apparently public land? I had to climb down these big round boulders and try not to trip and snap my leg in the middle of nowhere. Once back at the road I followed it past some old rural folk refuse. Old washing machines, machine parts and a flipped over car. Once again I came to a fence blocking the road. I was right at the spot to bushwhack  up the mountainside. Only about half a mile of whacking but it’s super steep and there is of course no trail. I figured I didn’t have much of a choice. I ate a bunch of candy and powered up the mountainside. It was tough but not as bad as some of the earlier bushwhacking. Exhausted and mentally worn down I used the little daylight I had to set up my shelter and snap some photos. I was right at the crest of the mountain, with only another mile and a half of bushwacking In the morning to go. Then I got paranoid that being on the crest of the mountain I was going to be blasted by wind all night keeping me awake and cold. The only flat spot was a slab of granite so I weighed down my stakes with rocks. The shelter was sturdier than I ever have had it before. Then I thought about all the deer I saw on the way up here. Then I thought the mountain lions must be up here too. All the caffeine I had during the day had me edgy to start and then the stress of bushwhacking alone all evening resulted in me having anxiety all night. The caffeine kept me awake and the stress kept me uncomfortable. I talked to friends and family on the phone to kill time and then listened to podcasts until I finally drifted off to sleep. 

The climb down the boulders to the road


Super tired, but man what a sight

Day 4. Icy Ephemeral Wonderland 


Distance Hiked: about 18 miles

Well last night went about as I expected. I fell asleep at about 6 pm and woke up at 11:30 to a pack of coyotes having a pep rally. I didn’t really mind, I love the sounds they make and their spunky, character. It took awhile to fall back asleep though, an hour and a half or so. It was that point of the night that there was no wind or any environmental sounds. All I could hear was my bodily functions loud and clear. The beating of my heart causing the slight scraping of my jacket against my quilt, the windy sounds of breathing in and out, the gurgle of my stomach, and my beard scraping against my quilt. It gets unnerving. The stillness was occasionally broken by an airplane or some wild animal going about its nightly business. One of them close to me made a noise I could only describe as a gagging/ puking. I smacked the side of of tarp and growled at it and it shut up. Two great horned owls, one to the east and one to the west of me were hooting softly back and forth. The east owl being the more talkative by far. After playing games on my phone to try and tire myself out to stop listening to my heartbeat I finally passed out again. A few hours later another new experience for me occurred. I could hear some animal poking at my tarp or trip over one of my guy lines causing my tarp to shake in the windless night and that sent my mind into shout and smack the side of the tent mode to scare off the curious beast. However my body was paralyzed, I couldn’t move a muscle, I couldn’t even get a shout out for probably about 30 seconds! Finally I got a weak groan out and regained the smacking ability and I heard the animal run off making little pouty noises like a fox or coyote, again. I wasn’t scared, just amazed that I was unable to respond to this nosy animal even though I was conscious of it being there! My whole family has told me about how they have had this happen to them before but I never had it until now. This weirded me out too much to fall back to sleep. By now it was 12:30 and I ended up playing chess, hearts and euchre on my phone until I bored myself back to sleep, only to be woken up again an hour and a half later in sleep paralysis again from some creature making the most cartoony “BLEEEEE!” sound. This thing was a little farther away but still loud enough to wake me. And still the two great horned owls were hooting in the same spots as hours and hours before! There are some weird creatures out here.

It was about 2 a.m. and I wasn’t tired anymore, I had plenty of sleep and just wanted to hike. Waiting for the sun. I knew it would be like this in the winter. These 13 hours of darkness are so boring. And cold! I was chilled the entire night. A quilt is a bad item for this kind of weather. I toss and turn nonstop at night, causing the open side to let freezing air in and chilling me. Also my down quilt was all wet from condensation from the wet desert soil and my breath. I played more games on my phone until 4 when I managed to doze off for another 20 minutes and then waking up. At 5 I was ready to go. I turned on the light on my phone to find my food bag in my pack and discovered that my tarp had become a crystal palace. All that condensation had been freezing ice crystals grew all over. The weight of the ice caused my tarp to sag in a lot and touch my quilt, making it wet. The sight really was. Beautiful though, light reflected off of all these in different angles and made a sparkling show! Look at my Instagram for a video of the effect! 

I ate a bunch of food and drank my non frozen portions of water. The packed up all my stuff and got out of my tent and paced a bit to try and thaw my frozen shoes. I couldn’t even get my tarp back into it bag. My fingers just kept hurting so bad from the cold, icy and wet tarp. I said screw it and tossed the thing in a garbage bag to contain the water. I got walking right about 6 a.m. 

Sparkly tarp! 

Half frozen 

The morning walk was very cold and very beautiful. It’s crisp out, probably low 20s and frost covered the desert floor. I watch the sunrise and walk through big patches of agave, some are huge clusters that must be many decades or centuries old. The trail then opens up into a flat which has a thick frost layer on it and all the vegetation within. The ground has frozen rock solid. I take lots of macro photos and videos of the delicate ice formations before they melt away. The trail then dropped into a narrow gully near a road. Lots of pretty rocks were in this wash. 

Cholla silhouette 

Agave sunrise

The trail in this section follows the California riding and hiking trail for a long way

Fantastic scenery 

Icy cholla skeleton

Barrel cactus spine 

Cool ice formations on a yucca 

Pretty rocks in the gully

The next obstacle was a huge climb up one gnarly truck trail. This thing hugged cliffs and was super eroded. I saw and old man and woman scale the thing in a jeep anyway. It took a few breaks and breathers to scale the mountain and then it opened onto a flattish area where the PCT was visible just a few hundred yards away. It’s very green and lively up here. I remember being surprised by how green the “desert” of southern California was on the PCT. There is tons of water up here in the ruts made my trucks. Some of the “puddles” are huge and will likely have water for a good while. A crust of ice is also present on all of them. Then the route travels up one last push about another 1000 feet. This area still has lots of snow from the storm the other day. Under the shade of the manzanitas the dusting appears to have been preserved. At the top were two day hikers, the first hikers I’ve seen this whole trip. They look chilly. Up here the SDTCT intersects the PCT. I walk down the PCT just a little bit for nostalgia’s sake. I was right there more than two and a half years ago! Little did I know then that there was a sign, the first I saw, for the SDTCT just 100 feet from the PCT sign. This marks me having touched all the major trails in a single year. PCT, CDT and AT. I triple crowned their width. 

Crazy steep truck trail

From desert to chaparral 

Huge puddles abound if you’re really thirsty

Little dusting up here too

The sweet sweet Pacific Crest Trail

The hike towards Lake Cuyamaca was sopping wet and muddy for much of it. I planned to resupply at the lake’s store and I heard it had a restaurant too. After the mud fest, the trail crossed a highway and entered big swaths of grasslands, a new and beautiful sight. I decided to take a shortcut by waking across the pretty fields instead of the wet, muddy trail. Glad I did. Shorter and way prettier. 

Even still I started to get glum because it was cold and rather windy. Not as much as before of course but still uncomfortable. Especially since I haven’t had a chance to dry my sopping wet tarp and damp quilt. There’s no way I can get low enough to get a significant change in warmth and at 4700 feet (that’s more than 2000 feet higher than last nights ice box) it’s going to be another cold one. I see two coyotes just before the lake. They watch me from a distance and then move away. When I get to the lake the place is busy! I thought this place would be way out there and rarely sees people, but it’s better than I could have imagined! I resupply at the store with a bunch of snacks which are pricy but I’m happy they have them and they are open until 8 on a Sunday. Then I get a spot at the campground. I’m the only person in all three of the campgrounds tonight. Everyone is smart enough to not want to freeze but me. Then I go to the restaurant. The place rocks. I get a big ass burger and fries and it is exactly what I had hoped it would be. The owner sits down and talks to me for 20 minutes or so and we talk about my hike and her restaurant. She’s scared of all the forest fires that have been happening. This whole area burned in 2003 and she lost her home. Now she’s afraid what to do if one comes up here. She has bad eyesight and can’t drive a car, so her friends tell her to just jump in the lake. “It’s the smoke that kills you!” She says.  

After lunch I go and attempt to dry out my gear. I pull out my tarp and all this ice falls out of it. Walking all day in the sun and it’s still frozen! I hang it in a tree and it gets blown around by the wind which seems to deice it well. It dries quickly. My quilt on the other hand got a little drier before the sun dropped behind the hills but not all the way dry. I pack up my stuff and walk around the lake to kill time. I finally get to use my big camera and take photos of the bird in the lake. There are geese, cormorants, lots of coots, some ducks I’ve never seen before and a couple mergansers. 

I head back to restaurant for a beer and to write this blog. The owner comes out again and says I have to try the apple pie from the nearby town of Julian. It’s served hot and topped with ice cream, whipped cream and cinnamon. It’s out of this world tasty. I thank her and then but. Few more snacks before heading to my campsite. I’m sleeping on the metal picnic table which I moved next to. Wooden wall to block the wind. The ground in every single campsite is sopping wet mud. Cowboy camping on a table tonight. May the sun come quickly. 

Update: as it turns out the ground is already frozen rock solid so the flat mush is now a nice flat spot. Setting up my tarp and looking to get a good nights sleep. 
Windswept grasslands

Day 3. Desert Hills


Distance Hiked: upper 20’s

Woke up at 5 and was walking at 6. Watched the sunrise as I walked through downtown Borrego Springs. I can see snow dusting the tops of the mountains I’m about to climb, but it’ll probably melt by the time I get up there. The temp seems to be in the low 40s but it’s comfortable walking with the sun shining. The hike up the mountain was reasonably steep, a gain of more than 3500 from the hotel. Little moss and lichens are very green and seem super excited from the rain. Up the mountain I moved from desert floor plants to hillside plants like ocotillo, barrel cactus, agave and teddy bear cholla to junipers, manzanita and other shrubs at the high elevations. Some snow did last until I got up there! But not much. 

All the sand and dust that didn’t wash out of my hair has made it feel gritty and look crazy

Sunrises for days

Cold morning walk through Borrego Springs

An ant empire. Their monumental construction project casts a shadow with the morning’s first light.

Good old teddy bear cholla

These lichens that bake in the sun for 99% of the year look visibly happier from all the rain

Pretty little mosses rejoice too

Some clever caterpillars snuck into the fortress of a barrel cactus’s spines to pupate. Looks like the one on the right may have been attacked by some smaller insects

That farthest hill in the upper middle of this photo is right near where we got sandstormed and the Salton Sea is barely visible just beyond that.

There’s a spine in my hind!

A little bit of snow 

I got to Pena spring and found some flowing water deep among some willows and shrubs. The water was great, a little peat aftertaste but not bad. The ground was frosty here too. You skirt the top of the mountain for a bit and then descend into grapevine canyon, which is beautiful and an easy walk. I passed by Stuart spring which was a piped spring with a trough, which was full and flowing. Soon after that was Angelia spring which was near some cottonwood trees but I couldn’t see any water there. I didn’t look for long though, I’m heavy with water. 
I think there’s a more legit flow somewhere around Pena spring but this little grass flow led me to a spot good enough

Stuart Spring, full trough and flowing

This is an old fruit of the wild spiny cucumber (Marah macrocarpus) 

In the evening I dropped down to a highway and then slowly up and through a mountain pass/ wash that was packed with cool plants and cacti. It was steep on both sides and water clearly had just rushed through it yesterday. I ran into a guy with an RV there and talked a bit about hiking. Once I started coming down the other side of the wash it was getting dark at 4 pm. Winter sucks. I rushed down into the valley with the idea of leaving mountainous areas for the wide open desert where I figured less large animals would want to bother me. I set up camp at 4:45 just as it was getting too dark to see and ate dinner. Then curled up into my sleeping bag for the night. I love sleeping in the wide open.

Lots of barrel cacti in the canyon! 

Other side of the canyon opened into flat desert 

Day 2. Storm Zero 


Distance Hiked: 0 miles

Taking a zero today due to the insane sandstorms and heavy rain. Conditions are suppose to improve by tomorrow morning. For the sake of time and not having to find a way back out to a random part of a wash I’ll have to just miss those 15 miles from the sandstorm to Borrego Springs. 

Coughee and me go to the nearby Arches restaurant for breakfast and I eat some big pancakes. 5 other diners are at a table near us and asks if we’re the two guys who got caught in the sandstorm last night. Yep. The lady at the front desk supposedly told of our struggle. We chatted with them for a bit while looking out on the golf course you could see the sandstorm still raging in the desert. 

There are grapefruit trees planted all over, filled with fruit so I grab one to eat. As soon as I bite into it, my tongue goes numb. Coughee tries some too and his tongue goes numb. We think pesticide on the outside of the fruit maybe did this, since we had no knife to cut it, we just bit into it. The effect lasted many hours. Wont try that again. 

As we’re just laying around with nothing to do all day Coughee makes the decision to go home because he is moving to a new house with Sherrie in a few weeks and he feels bad that she’s doing all the packing. I’m sad that he’s leaving but he’s just being responsible. His friends are coming to pick him up and take me to resupply. We lose power in the hotel for about 30 minutes. Wind must have blown some power lines down. When Shane and Moose arrive, we head to buy some food at the grocery store when we find out the whole town is still out of power. The grocery store says they can’t sell us anything and we go to the liquor store instead because it’s the only place that’s open. They had enough snacks for me to resupply a few days. We get back to the hotel and I say bye to Coughee and his friends. Power is out at the hotel again for a few hours, it comes back on and I pass out by 8 pm. 

Day 1. Awesome Desert Scenery and the Storm.

Day 1 


Distance Hiked: About 22 miles

We woke up at Coughee’s house at 5 am and had a quick breakfast and then hit the road. Coughee’s buddy Shane drove us down towards the Salton Sea and we cached water about 15 miles from the trail starts that way we don’t have to carry water the whole 38 miles to Borrego Springs. After hiding 4 gallons in the bushes we drove back to the main road and to the “beach” of the Salton Sea. 

We thanked Shane and said bye as we walked down to the Salton Sea’s shore. This “sea” stinks like ass and fish. It used to be fresh water after humans accidentally let a river pour into the valley, filling it and making an inland sea. It became salty because no new water flowed into it and no water ever left it, so as it evaporates in the burning desert sun it concentrates all the salt in the water that’s left. The shore is lined with piles of old barnacles and petrified fish. Some pelicans and seagulls and a heron were in the water. There was a coyote and a dog running around the shore line as well. 

The morning drive to the Salton Sea
Hiding our water in bushes

Fish everywhere

The salty shore

Glasswort grows all around the Salton sea. It’s a salt loving plant.

There actually was some water in the wash but it looked really salty and gross

We walked until we hit the wash we’re supposed to take and hit the trail. The morning was chilly and cloudy and the walking was easy. We walked under the highway and ate some snacks when 4 dune buggies went flying up the wash. The scenery got interesting as there were cuts in the sides of the wash. Crazy rock formations were sticking out someone carved one into a dick. 

A petrified tree?

Ancient shells coming out of the walls

There is a “PP” in the wash

When we cross countried from wash to wash the area was absolutely desolate. Just rocks on the ground everywhere as far as you could see. Eventually we made it to our water cache and ate some lunch as we filled up all our water. Then we walked towards some badlands and snakes our way through the crumbling, painted hillsides. I didn’t even know there were badlands out here! It was beautiful. 

Magnificent desolation 

Mud balls?

Wash through the badlands

The badlands

We hopped out of the badlands and walked towards a mountain we knew was in the direction we wanted and crossed more rocky areas where we came across a bomb that had been dropped out of a plane! It was just an empty shell so I’m assuming it’s some kind of practice bomb. Looked like it had been there a long time. As the sun started to set the lighting and the clouds became unbelievable. Lenticular clouds formed over the mountains and the sun began to shine. We walked until it was dark. 5 pm. Set up a cowboy camp and ate dinner. We had some service and looked at the weather forecast. Probably no rain but we had a high wind warning. 30 mph winds with 60 mph gusts on the desert floor starting tonight until tomorrow evening. As we got in our sleeping bags the wind began to pick up. Let’s see how this goes. 

We found an old bomb!

Lenticular clouds!

Some of the coolest clouds I’ve ever seen

There is life out here! 

We wake back up around 9:30 pm to the wind blasting us with sand and dust so we try to tuck ourselves in our sleeping bags and just hunker down. After about 20 minutes of this we both agreed it was hard to breathe because sand and dust was just pouring into all the cracks and crevices of of our bags. We got up to pee and the winds picked up to probably around 50 or 60 mph. My pee blasted away into just a mist. The full moon was out so we could see that the entire desert floor was just cast in a sandstorm. If you faced the wind, sand and dust pelted your eyes and got in your mouth and nose. It’s still about 15 miles to Borrego Springs, and 10 miles to the nearest road. Unfortunately the trail to Borrego Springs takes to head on into the blowing sand and wind. We came to the conclusion we couldn’t stay where we were. It was just too exposed and if this was supposed to last until 8pm the next night, we’d choke on all the sand. If you’ve never been in a sand storm before, I think you can imagine how shitty and scary it really is. We had some cell service and got a call out to a Borrego Springs deputy, letting them know we were out there but not in grave danger, but in trouble. 

We threw all our gear into our packs haphazardly and started walking west with our heads down into the sandstorm. The sand stings when it hits you and our eyes got full of sand and you could feel it all stuck under your eyelids and scraping your eyes at the same time you’re eating and breathing the sand and dust. Shitty. If only we had goggles and a respirator, we’d have be okay. Finally after about a mile and a half of walking, the winds calmed a little and we could walk without our eyes being pelted. We found a big bush in a wash that blocked the wind almost perfectly and decided that we were safe there and could camp out until morning. We tried calling the deputy back to say we’ve found shelter for the night but we couldn’t get through. Finally he called us and said he was near us, and that he still wanted to talk to us and make sure we’re okay. He drove up the wash in his 4 wheel drive Ford Expedition and told us he recommends we leave with him because it’s about to pour down rain in the mountains and even the desert. Our bush in the wash would be flooded and then we’d be stuck in the blasting wind and rain with no trail to follow, as the trail is this wash almost all the way to Borrego Springs. We take him up on the offer. 

He goes flying through the washes in his car at crazy speeds, clearly enjoying cruising around the sandy bends. As soon as we reach a paved road it starts raining. He says he can drop us off at the campground near Borrego Springs but doesn’t recommend it because it’s going to flood everywhere and be windy. He says, “Sure you don’t want to go to a hotel?” We agree, let’s go to the hotel. He drives through town and then out to a dirt lot and stops the car. He asks us if we need to use the bathroom. There is a pit toilet there and he opens the door and says here you go. Uhhh is the hotel around here? He says nope this is Hellhole Canyon. Then he asks us for our IDs and spends about 10 minutes typing stuff into his computer while we stand in the stinking pit toilet to get out of the cold, windy rain. Finally he comes back and says we’re good to go. “I thought you were taking us to a hotel?” He says, “Oh yea, I can do that.” Ummm okay. I guess he forgot where he was taking us. Anyway we hop back in and head back through town. He’s a nice guy and we chat him up about how often he gets called to pick people up out of the desert. Says he gets lots of Europeans who want to experience the desert in the summer and end up roasting out there. Finally we get dropped off at the hotel and we check in to a room. The lady is very talkative and we chat about what just happened to us. 

In the room we scrape sand out of our ears and the corner of our eyes. Boogers that are mostly stone are mined out we hack crap out of our lungs. We take quick showers and hit the hay. What an insane night it has been. A whole new terrifying natural disaster to experience. Still happy though! 

Thanks for the save!

San Diego Trans-County Trail Gear List.

I’m starting my thru hike of the San Diego Trans-County Trail on Tuesday!

This trail is about 155 miles long and goes from the the Salton Sea in Southern California, through the Anza-Borrego Desert, into the actual city of San Diego and ends at the Pacific Ocean near Torrey Pines. The trail is really more of a route, meaning there is no trail at all for much of it but rather you use a compass and map to follow the route through washes and towards landmarks.My gear list for this hike contains much of the same items as the Colorado Trail hike I did earlier this year, with a new few bits of gear like the Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket that I’ll mostly be using as a wind breaker. I’ll also be carrying all this in a new backpack from Pa’lante Packs, made by my friends Handy Andy and John Zahorian. Together they make and just started selling ultralight, minimalist backpacks. These guys are monster hikers. Handy Andy holds the fastest known time (unsupported) on the John Muir Trail, hiking all 211 miles of it in just 3 days 10 hours 59 minutes! John Z just set the Colorado Trail fastest known time (unsupported) this summer while I was actually on the CT. He managed to hike the entire 485 miles of the trail in 9 days 12 hours and 32 minutes! He carried all his food from start to finish with zero resupplies. These dudes know what they’re doing. So I’m trying out one of their packs to see how it works!

Here’s what I’m bringing.

Backpack and Water Treatment and Storage:
Pa’lante Packs 40 liter backpack 13 oz
Sawyer squeeze mini 1.7 oz
4 1 liter smart water bottles 8 oz
Subtotal 22.7 oz

Sleep system
Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis tarp tent with insect netting 13 oz
6 Aluminum tent stakes 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 degree down quilt 19.4 oz
Z Lite sleeping pad 10 oz
Subtotal 45.4 oz

Clothing in Backpack
Undershirt 7.2 oz
Long johns 6.9 oz
Go lite down jacket 7.5 oz
Spare socks 3 oz
Enlightened Equipment Sidekick booties 1.5 oz
Outdoor Research Helium II ultralight rain jacket 6.4 oz
Subtotal 32.5 oz

Miscellaneous Items
Head light with batteries 2.8 oz
Sunglasses .7 oz
Toothbrush and toothpaste 1 oz
Compass .8 oz
Tiny Swiss Army knife .5 oz
Sunscreen 2 oz
Tenacious tape, sewing needle and dental floss .2 oz
Subtotal 8 oz

Chargers 2 oz
Anker battery 15000 mwh 11 oz
Canon PowerShot SX50 HS Camera, Raynox DCR 250 Macro lens, case, battery and charger 30 oz
Subtotal 43 oz

Total Base Weight 151.6 oz or 9.48 lbs

All the gear out of the pack!

Everything in the pack!

I’m very excited to get back into the desert and see all the different plants and animals. Also want to get out of the freezing cold and wet days here. I’ll be doing another daily blog for this trail so stay tuned!