Day 1: A Trail of Lizards
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 7:34 pm
Location: Hauser Mountain Campsite (11.4 miles)

Lee made me a great breakfast of eggs, waffles, and bacon, and after saying goodbye to her, Steve gave me a ride to the trailhead. By 7:41, we were on our way (with a quick return a minute later so I could grab my sunglasses, which I forgot to pick up on my way out the door).

It took us a little less than two hours to drive to the trailhead. There, we were greeted by Phantom, who is the Southern Terminus host. Steve and I took some pictures (including one of him “hiking” the trail, setting a new standard in ultra-lightweight hiking), and then we said our goodbyes, and he headed home. Steve and Lee, thanks so much for the hospitality the last few days!

On the way to the trailhead, we saw a rainbow halo around the sun, which I took to be a good omen. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so quick to assume. When I took my trekking poles off of my pack, I found that one of them was missing its rubber tip cover, which most likely got pulled off when I was removing the pack from Steve’s car. This wouldn’t be the first equipment malfunction of the day.

I started my hike at 9:48 am, and immediately started it with an alternate route: a short jaunt down an access road and across a clearing (that was actually in the process of being bulldozed, it seems), to touch the border wall with Mexico. This is the furthest south I’ve been in quite some time.

Turning north, I began hiking through the Southern California desert. Shortly after the 1 mile marker (of the sort that you’d expect to see on a highway), I ran in to the first of my fellow PCT hikers, Swede (who had a cap with his name embroidered) and Captain Awesome, who had also hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016.

Mile One
Mile One2661 to go!

The day was considerably warmer than I was expecting — in the 60s, I didn’t even start with my fleece, and after two miles, I took a short break to remove the legs on my convertible pants.

The first animals I saw on the trail were lizards. Over the course of the day, I saw a significant number of them, easily several dozen. Most of then were very skittish, scampering away before I could get close enough to get a good photo. I also saw a few birds, squirrels, and even a rabbit.

After about 4.5 miles, at a nice, somewhat shaded creek, I took a snack break. Also, since that was the last water for another ten miles (at Hauser Creek, though the creek is dry at the trail, and water is a mile off the trail down a dirt road), I topped off my water there. My stretch goal for the day is Hauser Creek, but I needed to be able to stop before then, at a campsite that would have no water.

Somewhere between that creek and two miles later, I lost the basket on one of my trekking poles. This is more of a nuisance than a critical problem; it just means that pole is going to sink further into soft surfaces.

The trail all morning had been a rugged beauty of scrubby brush, short trees, and wide-open mountain landscapes with large boulders arranged haphazardly, but around 1 pm, for an hour or so, the trail wound its way along the side of a mountain overlooking a lush, green horse pasture.

Pastures in the Desert
Pastures in the Desert

A few miles later, I took a short 15 minute break in the shade, just as three other hikers who were there were just leaving.

As the afternoon wound on, with the sun beating down on me, I felt my energy waning. Not wanting to overdo it on my first day, I stopped at a small campsite on Hauser Mountain, about 11.4 miles from the southern terminus, a little before 4. I took a nice snack break in the shade to cool down, and made the decision to stop there for the day. Hauser Creek would be another 4 miles ahead, mostly downhill, but it would really be pushing it to get there, gather water, and cook dinner before sunset.

Shortly after I committed to staying, another hiker, Brian, showed up, also finishing the day there. Several other hikers stopped briefly for a break, before pushing on towards Hauser Creek. Later, after sunset, a third hiker, Eric, set up camp in he last open spot.

Setting up my tent was a little bit of an adventure. I’d only set it up once at home with support from the how-to video, but of course, I didn’t have that here. The roof was a bit low, so I think next time, I’ll have to pull the stake line out a bit further, but otherwise, it kept me covered all night.

After I changed into my camp clothes and hung my hiking clothes up on trees to dry, the third equipment malfunction of the day kicked in: my pants have a loop on the back that can be used to hang them. The loop detached, also loosening the belt loop to which it was attached.

Dinner was my usual macaroni and cheese and tuna. Of course, my stove was being finicky, and the starter didn’t seem to want to work. Fortunately, I had a lighter, but it was a bit of a pain; the sun was bright enough that it was hard to see the flame and tell if it was on when at a low setting.

As expected, I’m sore, tired, and a bit more sunburned than I had really planned for, but here in my little campsite, I’ll take the small victories: one day of hiking successfully completed (and many more to go).

Hauser Mountain Campsite
Hauser Mountain Campsite