Monday, April 7, 2008

The preperation - PCT Hike

The first mention of a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike was during the family gathering in Big Bear in December 2007. Nelius had mentioned his dream of hiking from Big Bear to his house in Sierra Madre; sounded good to me! I'm in. When do we start?

Planning the route and picking the dates took a few months. At first the plan was to hike from Karsten and Kirsten's cabin to Nada and Nelius' house, door to door. After researching the route, we were surprised to find the total distance to be in excess of 170 miles...back to the drawing board. Since Nelius has already explored more of the trails around his house, we decided to keep the original plan of starting in Big Bear, but ending at Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass area. After picking a starting point very near the Big Bear Lake we had estimated a hiking distance of about 70 miles and 5 days on the trail...we hoped. Then we had another set back, the "Butler 2" fire that devastated the San Bernardino National Forest had closed the PCT for over 20 miles through the Big Bear area. The trail had been re-routed onto forest service roads that skirted the edges of the affected forest. Neither Nelius nor myself had any desire to hike mile upon mile of forest service road, so we had to pick a new starting point yet again. After a long series of emails to the Pacific Crest Trail Association, we picked a starting point. Crab Flats, on Forest Service Road 3N16 near Green Valley Lake. This was the eastern most point of the trail that was open for hiking.

With a route picked, and a date set for April 3rd. Nelius and I started gathering gear, and getting ready. Check out the next entry for details on gear!

Here is the route in it's entirety as seen from Space, compliments of Google Earth. Big Bear Lake is just a little South East of the start point, but not visible on this screen shot.

The Gear

After choosing the route and the date, we had to start thinking about weather trends for the area, elevation and ultimately, gear.

Nelius was going for the lightest weight setup that he could accomplish, and to my amazement made some of his gear. He made his backpack, tent, and sleeping bag! Not to mention most of his food was home made as well. Here are some photos of Nelius' tent and sleeping bag. You will have to wait until the hiking photos to see his backpack. All of his gear worked very well, and Nelius started the hike with a 31.5 lb. pack...10 lbs. lighter than mine!

Nelius' Home Made - Tarp Tent

Nelius' Home Made - Quilt Style Sleeping Bag

Nelius' Home Made Quilt in its Stuff Sack

I opted for a little more comfort at the cost of a lot more weight. I have been experimenting with hammock camping for the past few months and worked to get my hammock set up for this trip. Here are a few photos of my hammock, and there will be more with my new rain fly in the hiking photos section.

Tyler's Hennessey Hammock and old Rain Fly

Tyler's Hennessey Hammock - Test Drive in Arizona

Tyler's Stuff Stack - Holds the Hammock and Rain Fly

The weather was looking good from the get-go for this trip. At Big Bear we were looking at highs in the high 50's, and lows in the high 20's. Thankfully we knew that we would drop in elevation the first day of the hike, so we had to be prepared for overnight lows in the high 30's to low 40's. The day time hiking temps were looking superb even in the lower areas of the hike.

Nelius also went WAY out of his way on preparing for the hike. He printed maps for the entire hike and taped them together to create one HUGE long map of our hike, then folded like an oragami expert so that we could use it on the trail. He also ripped the pages out of a guide book, and made a special guide book just for us giving us detailed trail descriptions. Nice work Nelius! We would have been lost for sure without this stuff!!!

The Map.

Our Guide Book.

The Official Guide Book for the entire trail.

April 2nd - Day Before the Hike

It was amazing that the months of preparation, stressing about details, gear testing and decision making had come to an end. It was time to put foot to trail.

I left Phoenix on Wednesday April 2nd and drove to Redlands where I was going to leave my car for the duration of the hike. Nada and Nelius picked me up at my friend's house and we headed for Big Bear.

We decided that it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out the trail head that evening so we would know what the next morning had in store for us. It was a good thing we did! We ended up having an 8 mile drive over rough forest service roads to access the PCT. It gets worse...not only was the road suited for 4x4's, but there was also a massive logging operation going on to clear out the fire damage. We had to dodge heavy equipment, loggers, logs, sticks, branches...and helicopters dropping huge bundles of debris next to the road.

We had to wait a few minutes while a helicopter dropped a load of wood in the middle of the road and this bulldozer moved it out of the way. The loggers were just about to wave us through when they realized that the Saturn sedan probably couldn't make it over the rutted out road, so the bulldozer drive was kind enough to come within feet of the front of the car, and drag that huge blade backwards over the road smoothing it out for us.

This is what the loggers are working to accomplish, a very barren, fire hazard free mountain side.

First Day on the Trail - April 3rd

After a night of soaking in the hot tube and anxiously awaiting the days to come, it was time to get this party started. We woke up early on Thur. morning and had a huge breakfast thanks to Nada. Oatmeal, toast and scrambled eggs! We left the cabin at about 8:30 with a slight concern about the possibilities of morning showers and/or snow. Thankfully the weather never developed.

Time to get in the car and get going. One more photo before we load up!

We arrived at our drop off point, 2 miles from the trail head because the Saturn refused to cross this section of road!

At about 10am, we got our packs on, said our good byes and go ready to head down the road.

After 2 miles we arrived at the trail head. Notice the poles with the PCT logo on the top. These posts were located throughout the hike to keep you on the trail. It was really amazing how well placed these were. They weren't always poles as you will see later. Sometimes it was a guardrail, or a some other just had to keep your eyes peeled for these white logos.

The trail started off along Holcomb Creek, crossing it in several places. Nelius was feeling pretty nimble that first day...I don't think either of us would have been trying this on the 4th day.

This was what the trail looked like for about the first 4-5 miles of the hike. You can see the fire damage on the trees from fires that happened years ago. There wasn't much of the hike, if any that hadn't suffered from a fire at some point. It's amazing how the forest can recover, even in recently burnt areas there are nice wild flowers and new trees popping up.

A few miles into the hike we came to our first land mark. Holcomb Crossing, a small camp site for backpackers. They had this map posted, there is a small black dot on the map, towards the right side indicating where we were. Nelius is pointing to where we are going....well off the map.

We had lunch in the early afternoon at a nice natural spring, which was really just a small diameter steel pipe sticking out of the ground with a steady stream of water coming out. It was in the shade and had a couple nice logs to sit on. After lunch we marched on, leaving the lush forest and entering a badly burned section of forest. As the trail descended more and more we came to our next major land mark, the Deep Creek Bridge. This bridge was amazing spanning a deep canyon (perhaps why it's called Deep Creek?). This bridge announced that we had made it 6 miles, half of what we needed to do daily in order to finish on Sunday.

After the bridge the trail turned and headed down Deep Creek. The scenery went from good to GREAT! The trail stays high up on the mountain side above the creek and affords amazing views up and down the canyon. At times you can see the trail miles ahead of you if you looked close. It was spectacular to say the least. Here are some trail and scenery photos from this section of the hike.

Another smaller bridge.

You can see the trail on the hillside in the distance.

As we continued down the canyon we noticed that camping spots were nearly impossible to locate, so when we came across a wide spot in the creek that had a few suitable spots to set up camp, we called it a day. Total Mileage from car to camping site, roughly 14 miles.

That is Nelius' tarp tent on the right, and my hammock is hanging under my new rain fly on the left. The kitchen was where the brown plastic bag is laying on the rock. did this photo get on the blog?!?! :)

This is Nelius doing dishes after dinner. We had Three Cheese Tortellini with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Parmesan Cheese. Yummy!

We have to think safety when in the back country, so we always hang our food bag so animals don't go after it. I had a crazy night in Arizona one time with a Ringtail (kind of like a raccoon), but that's a whole other blog!

Here is a screen shot from Google Earth, showing were we started hiking, were the trail head is, where we had lunch, the big bridge over Dry Creek, and our first nights camp.

Second Day on the Trail - April 4th

We woke up after a restful nights sleep to 41 degree temps and clear blue skies. Breakfast consisted of Nelius having home made oatmeal and me having potato, red pepper, and onion burritos with Taco Bell hot sauce. We broke camp and got ready to hit the trail. Our motivation was the Deep Creek Hot Springs which waited just 4 miles down stream!

Nelius getting water for Breakfast from the creek.

Getting everything back in the packs is a project!

Leaving camp, we headed back up high on hillside, which gave us our first amazing view of the day! The flowers were amazing throughout the entire hike. Yellow, red, purple, white, blue, seemed every color was represented. It's tough to decide whether to look at the flowers next to the trail, or stare down the much scenery to take in at one time!

Right at the tip of my trekking pole is where we camped. You can also see the trail in the background on the right side of the canyon winding it's way back towards were we started.

Ok, enough with the scenery, back to hiking!

It wasn't soon after leaving camp that I started feeling my first blister. I took this photo as I was getting ready to treat the spot that hurt. I hate blisters.

While Nelius was waiting for me to get my shoes back on, I looked down and saw the fearless leader of this adventure pouring over the map.

Shoes back on...hopefully the pain stops. Back to the trail. The hot springs aren't far away.

We arrived at the hot springs around 10am and there was already a crowd of naked people soaking in the different pools. Nelius wasn't there for 30 seconds before he was stripped down and jumping in...the hot water was terrific. I couldn't take many photos, for obvious reason (naked strangers), but I got a few. There were three different pools in the main area, ranging in temp from 98 to 116 degrees (the hot one being called the "Crab Cooker") and then another smaller pool a ways up the beach. It was very nice, the pools varied in temps, so you could go from one to another depending on what temp you wanted, the views of the canyon were nice. We stuck around the hot springs a little longer than planned and didn't leave until around noon, which put us a bit behind schedule. A guy at the hot springs told us it was 7 miles from the hot springs to the end of Deep Creek Canyon, so at least we had an idea of how far we had to go before our next major land mark.

We knew it was 7 miles out of the canyon, but we had one more thing to look forward to and that was another massive bridge. So we headed down river in search of the next bridge!

We saw tons of lizards like this around trail. They didn't usually stick around long enough for a photo though.

After crossing over that amazing bridge we continued down stream now on the other side of the canyon. As we continued farther and farther the scenery really changed. The canyon walls got much steeper and more barren. The trail after the red bridge followed an old aqueduct system so the grade was very manageable as we climbed up the longest ascent since we left the car. As we started to come out of the canyon we started seeing more and more signs of civilization, mostly in the form of graffiti on many of the rocks near the trail.

This was interesting. Someone tried to cram a car jack under this rock in an effort to get this massive rock to roll down into the canyon...they needed a larger jack apparently.

The wall on the left is the old aqueduct support....I think.

The next thing we see, is the Mojave River Dam. In our guide book it stated that the spillway is the definition of "Over Kill". I can't comprehend the amount of water it would take to actually get up and over this spillway...the thing was MASSIVE compared to the small creek that it is there to control. This spillway was the first time we had cell reception, so I called Claire to let her know we were still alive, and just a little behind a schedule. This land mark indicated that we had come 20 miles from the trail head.

Here is the massive spillway, it's here to keep that 15 wide creek in check. I sure hope it's big enough.

After having a quick bite to eat, and some water, we moved out of the spillway area and continued to follow Deep Creek (although it's not in the canyon anymore). About a mile after leaving the spillway we came to a bridge...well actually what was once a bridge.

HEY! Why are my shoes around my neck, and my feet wet and covered in sand?!?!?

A few hundred yards down stream, the Deep Creek connects with the Mojave River and together they go through a huge hole in the dam and out of site. At this point, we are at the lowest of the entire trip. We are also leaving the waters of deep creek and are now going to follow the Mojave River upstream towards Silverwood Lake. We took a few minutes to pump a little water out of the Mojave before moving on. We needed to make up some time. With the hot springs, and the missing bridge we had fallen several hours/ miles behind schedule.

You can see Nelius in the bottom left corner filtering river water.

After getting the water bottles topped off we headed out following the banks of the Mojave River, it wasn't long before the trail headed off in a different direction from the river and towards the mountains. At this point, we came near the first house that butted up against the trail, a nice large farm house which was nice to see. At the end of this homes driveway was Hwy 173, our first major road landmark of the trip.

Upon crossing Hwy 173 we were pleasantly surprised to see the first sign of Trail Angels. Trail Angels are people who voluntarily contribute to the success of PCT hikers. They do this is a variety of ways, anything from leaving jugs of fresh water (like in this case) all the way to opening their homes to hikers who need a comfy bed and hot meal while they are on their journey. Trail Angels are plentiful, and one of the coolest things I have heard of! So, to whoever left these water jugs by the trail...THANKS, we used the water for dinner that night!

Here is Nelius coming up to the Highway.

You can see the bottles of water there under the tree.

WHOOOOO...the first sign that showed out destination! Interstate 15.

Once we got things moving again, we climbed for about a mile and then started working our way along a mountainside which was a really nice piece of the trail. The trail was high up on the hill, offering a great view of the valley, and the trail would go deep into the ravines of the mountain crossing streams in places. We continued from Hwy 173 about 2-3 miles before looking for a camping site.

You could have parked a small car on this rock. I thought it was neat looking...but maybe I was just really tired.

Here you can see the trail wrapping along the base of the mountain. Highway 173 is down there someplace.

Here comes Nelius.

We had a tough time locating a camping spot since the trail was on a steep hillside. We finally had to settle for a "barely acceptable" spot...which ended up working out well. It was a little knoll on the mountain side that had a couple small flat spots to put down our sleeping pads. I couldn't use the hammock, since there were no trees, so I set up my rain fly as a tarp tent. We enjoyed a great dinner of Loaded Baked Potato flavored Mashed Potatoes, and we added in chicken breast as well. It hit the spot, and we headed to bed as the sun was setting.

Somehow I failed to get a shot of Nelius' tent this evening. It was up the hill and off a bit to the other side of the knoll.

I took a quick shot as the sun was setting from inside my sleeping bag.

With that Day 2 on the trail was over. Our total mileage on Day 2 was roughly 12 Miles. We hiked from about 9 am until around 4:30 pm with a long break at the hot springs.

Here is a map from Day 2.