Day 0. Travel Day

5/4/17

Woke up at 4:00 a.m. which always seems to be the time to start a great adventure. Flew out of the Cincinnati airport at 7:00 a.m. to Atlanta and managed to dodge all the storms in the area! Ran as fast as I could to my next plane which was already boarding when I landed (it always seems I either have 25 minutes or 12 hours between flights) and then took off for El Paso, Texas. After landing in El Paso, I got an Uber. My driver is from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which is directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. She says that even though they’re right next to each other, the culture is very different. She says everyone on the American side is too rushed and frantic. Mexico is more relaxed and people know their neighbors better. It’s a lot cheaper to live there too. 

She drops me off at the public library in El Paso because I forgot to print out my Greyhound bus ticket. They need a physical paper ticket, I assumed they were like airports these days. Anyways, I quickly print off my ticket in the computer lab and then have nothing to do for 5 hours. The bus station is conveniently a short walk from the library. I go to CVS and buy a little supplemental food and then mosey on over to the bus station. I know bus stations kind of have a stigma to them… I get it now. Five TVs are playing the People’s Court with all the sound slightly off and they all echo. It got a little better when five Steve Harvey’s started hosting Family Feud. One of the TVs looks like it got punched because it’s all warped and green in the center. About an hour before I board I see a guy walk in and immediately I can tell he’s a thru hiker due to the Gregory backpack and lack of face tattoos. He’s from Germany and this will be his first big thru hike. Looks like we will be on the same shuttle to the border tomorrow! Look at all that trail ahead!

The bus ride is uneventful and smells like pee and poop. After 3 hours or so the bus dropped me off at the McDonalds on Lordsburg around 8:30 pm local time. I grab some fast food and head to my motel room at the Econolodge. I sent my trekking poles and umbrella ahead to the motel a few days ago so I didn’t have to be bothered by trying to take them as carry on luggage on the planes. They have always let me take them but also always stop me and heckle me until I tell them I’ve done it before and that satisfies them. I take a shower, get my gear ready and go to bed. 

It all starts in the morning.

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Continental Divide Trail Gear List and Food

Just over a month to go! I’m so excited I can hardly stand it. Here I have compiled a list of the gear I will be taking on this trip. I have my Base weight calculated (all of your gear minus the clothes you always wear on your body and consumables such as food, water and fuel). Some items will be variable such as how many water bottles I’ll carry, depending on where I am on the trail. I’m starting with 6 just in case in the desert but will only carry 2 in Colorado and probably other northern parts of the trail.

Backpack and Water Treatment and Storage:
Pa’lante Packs Simple Pack with hipbelts about 15 oz
Sawyer squeeze 2.7 oz
6 1 liter smart water bottles 12 oz
Subtotal 29.7 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
Gossamer gear airbeam air mattress 10 oz
Polycryo ground sheet 1.6 oz
Subtotal 47 oz

Clothing in Backpack:
Patagonia Men’s Capilene Midweight Crew undershirt 6.7 oz
Patagonia Men’s Capilene Midweight Bottoms 6.8 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 31.9 oz

Miscellaneous Items:
Petzl e+LITE Headlamp 1 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
Mosquito head net .7 oz
Swing Liteflex Silver Trekking Umbrella 8 oz
Subtotal 14.9 oz

Electronics:
Chargers 2 oz
Anker battery 15000 mwh 11 oz
Olloclip macro lens for IPhone .8 oz
Sony Cyber‑Shot DSC‑RX100 II 20.2 MP 9 oz
SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger 4 oz
Subtotal 26.8 oz

Total Base Weight: 150.3 oz or 9.39 lbs
All my gear outside of the pack
All gear inside the pack!

The size of the gear I carry has shrunk considerably since my southbound 2012 Appalachian Trail hike with Buzz Lightyear. I think I was lugging about 45 lbs in my 85 liter external frame pack when I started that hike. I had a machete, fishing pole, slingshot and tons of other useless shit. We had no idea what we were doing or what we had gotten ourselves into! By the time we got to Dalton, Massachusetts my pack was a 30 liter day hiking backpack that weighed about 25 lbs fully loaded (thanks to Tom Levardi for taking us to an outfitter)!

atA happy fool

I am one of those manics that never cooks on trail, I’m way too lazy to want to lug around extra water for cooking, then have to set up a stove, boil things and then clean out pots covered in gunk. I’ll just get warm food when I get to town in a few days. It just makes it that much better! The plus sides of this is I don’t have to worry about refueling, carrying a stove, fuel, pots/cups, or even utensils. No chores or wait time in the morning or at night and I don’t send up a beacon of scent to all the animals in the forest. “If you don’t cook then what the hell do you eat?” I eat whatever sounds tasty at that moment. I have no meals planned out, just a big bag filled with all my food. When I wake up I might eat some carnation breakfast essentials, granola bars, fruit and nuts. In the afternoon maybe chocolate, nuts, fruit, jerky, granola bars, and then the same for the evening.

I bought food enough for 9 boxes to be sent to locations along the CDT where there is either no resupply at all or very meager choices (a gas station for example). That being said, I have stuck to a lot of my usual favorites again like various granola bars, pistachios, pecans, pine nuts, jerky, candy, dried fruit, as well as lots of freeze dried fruit this time around. I found a company that sells freeze dried fruit in bulk for very cheap by accident a few months back. Its called Emergency Essentials and it is really more geared towards filling up your nuclear bunker than for hiking, but the freeze dried products are useful just the same. I have tons of freeze dried strawberries, peaches, raspberries and cinnamon apples. They weigh almost nothing but do take up a good amount of space. And don’t worry about not using them for awhile because as the bottom of one of the cans read, “best if used before May 2039.”

One of the items that I’m super excited for this time around are a variety of Salazon chocolate bars. They were created by a thru hiker and all have salt in them. The idea was that tasty chocolate could also be salted to help keep a hiker’s electrolyte levels up while at the same time eating one of  a hungry hiker’s favorite foods. They taste so freaking good.

I’ve also got a new camera this time around. Its the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 ii which is the camera Twinkle Toes and Bigfoot use on their adventures. I’ve played around with it a little bit and am stoked to use it on trail.

Less than a month to go! I can’t wait to meet other hikers and get back to doing what feels so right. Walking slowly across the varied surface of a planet and observing the other organisms that we inhabit this rock with.

Day 8. A Soggy Finish

12/22/16

Distance Hiked: about 12 miles

Got up at 5 am and got my pack ready for rain. At 6 there was a continental breakfast so I ate some waffles, bacon and lots of juice. Then it was back to Carl’s Jr. to fill up my water bottle with a liter of Dr. Pepper. I requested an Uber and was back at the trail before 7. 

It rained a ton last night and I figured I’d be seeing some flooding because the trail follows a creek all the way to the coast. The moisture brought out some life as well. I saw hundreds of snails all across the trail. Some of these happened to be engaged in a courtship dance like these here. Snails are notably unusual to us because they’re hermaphrodites. That is, every individual has male and female sex organs. To make things even weirder, they are sizing each other up and aiming to shoot a “love dart” into the other snail. A love dart is a sharp calcified spear that when fired into a mate, introduces a hormone like substance into the recipients body that opens the copulatorty canal and increases the likelihood of sperm reaching the sperm storage area rather than being digested. Both snails can fertilize and lay non-self fertilized eggs this way, although some snails try to actively try and avoid being fertilized because it’s costly to form, lay and sometimes care for eggs.

I had to take a few alternative routes around the flooded portions of the trail like this, but they were all very easy to get around. 

It got to a point where keeping your feet dry was no longer possible. There were a couple of unavoidable fords and then it began raining hard anyway so I just hopped into the puddles and streams. 

Lots of the morning was walking through oak canopies and pretty meadows. The Penasquitos preserve was a beautiful place to walk even in the pouring rain. I never saw another person on the trail all morning.

You’re supposed to be able to cross the creek just to the right of this waterfall but it was well underwater and raging today. 

Some mushrooms were even out and shedding spores!

All the other crossings were flooded and under runnng water. I could see that I could just follow the trail on the south side of the creek anyway so I didn’t bother crossing.

Prepare to have your minds blown. I found this African clawed frog after all the rainstorms we’ve been having in San Diego county. This is one of the few areas of the United States where this species has established itself in the wild. Now get this, the African clawed frog was introduced all over the world because it was used a pregnancy test for humans from the 1930s- 1960s. The urine of a suspected pregnant woman would be injected into female frogs. The human placenta produces the hormone Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) which is present in the urine of pregnant women. This same hormone also induces African clawed frogs to lay eggs. So if the frog laid eggs, it was a positive for pregnancy. This was an improvement on earlier pregnancy test which used mice and rabbits which had to be killed an inspected for ovarian changes after being injected with a lady’s urine. The frogs would survive this procedure to be used again and were much cheaper. These frogs were also kept as pets as some of you I’m sure have had them. Inevitably some of these lab and pet frogs were released and managed to establish populations in the wild. Now here’s another crazy result of this. The African clawed frog is a carrier of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which has been obliterating amphibian populations around the world. The African clawed frog is resistant to the fungus because they coevolved in Africa. Dozens of species of frogs and toads have been driven to extinction by this now worldwide fungus. Human pregnancy tests are linked to the worldwide extinctions of amphibians. Everything is connected.

I came out of the little canyon and into town for a little bit. Walking past some more office buildings and a little restaurant where I got a big chicken quesadilla. I chowed down on this while I walked down the road. The road eventually ended in a pull out with a fence and a sign warning of this area being a big drug use area. It didn’t seem any different from anywhere I had been before. The road eventually crumbled and led to a single house. Just past the house a single path led into the shrubs with a marsh off to the right. 

Not long after getting on this path it dipped in and out of deep puddles where the nearby marsh had devoured the trail from the flooding. This time it wasn’t just sloshing through puddles, it went waist deep for long stretches. I was already soaked and so excited that I was only about a mile from the ocean I just went for it. 

The trail goes underwater and stays there until the bend up ahead.

Into a salty marsh! Herons were feeding here.

I must be close!!!

Glasswort is back! 

Out of the marsh and over a rise to the road and there’s the Pacific Ocean! I’m smiling all the way to the beach. It’s breezy and raining a little, but I just finished my hike! I walk down to the beach and into the ocean. I’m soaked already and the salty water helps get the gunk off my shoes. A few other people on the beach watch me and probably think I’m nuts. I may be nuts, but I’m happy. And that’s how I wanna stay.

Thanks to Handy Andy and John Z at Pa’lante packs for making a killer pack and letting me use it for my hike! The Pa’lante packs are minimalist backpacks for the ultralight backpacker. This model has no hip belt, at light weights, it supposedly isn’t necessary and I found that to be true! Only time it was a little painful was when carrying 4+ liters and few days of food, but this much of a water carry was rare. It was very snug and stable against my back too, it didn’t sway at all. They have one large pocket I use for my “camp gear,” things I only need to pull out at the end of the day (sleeping pad, quilt, extra clothes, etc.) a huge elastic pocket on the outside that I kept my food, maps, sunscreen in, and an elastic pocket on the bottom of the pack that has a large capacity and which is intended for on the go snacking. Just reach behind you and grab your food without even stopping! This is one of my favorite features. The pack is made of lightweight X-PAC fabric and is also durable. With all the bushwhacking I did, dyneema fabric would have been shredded. This bad boy is alive and well. Overall I think the pack is perfect for a lightweight backpacking. I could see it being the ultimate Appalachian Trail pack, where bulky warm clothes and sleeping bags are unnecessary much of the hiking season. Very well built, looks sleek, super light, great product guys!

My Sheriff Woody action figure that I take with me on my hikes. He’s comes with a bunch of little interchangeable parts like the famous “hentai Woody” face and different hands. You can also change the direction of his eyes. He helps me laugh at myself when I’m out there alone.

Fun fact: Kelp is not a plant at all but a protist. It’s close relatives are fungi like plant pathogens such as potato blight, which killed all the potatoes in Ireland, causing millions to starve or emigrate to other countries. 

After hanging out on the beach and walking around for a few hours I decided to head to Del Mar, a nearby town about 2 miles to the north. The walk was beautiful and went up in elevation and therefore gave some nice views from the cliffs. 

Once in town I stopped at a Starbucks and just hung out and enjoyed the internet for a few hours while I waited for Jr Sr. He’s picking me up and dropping me at the airport. 

Jr Sr picks me up and we head to a bar for a celebratory drink and a game of pool. Then it’s to the airport for the flight home. 😊

Day 7. Great Urban Hiking

12/21/16

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 🤓

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 

12/20/16

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 Pokémon 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

12/19/16

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

RIP

Super tired, but man what a sight

Day 4. Icy Ephemeral Wonderland 

12/18/16

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

A thru hiking addicted scientist is in love with the natural world.