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

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