Yesterday was a bleak landscape of cactus, rocks, and dirt. Today was anything but. As I said the other day: turn the corner, and you’re in a completely different painting.
I slept well, and though I intended to start as early as possible to get as much hiking in as I could before the sun got high in the sky, I didn’t manage to leave camp until just before 8. Almost immediately, the change in character of the trail was evident: instead of the bleak desert landscape, the trail was largely surrounded by greenery for practically the whole day.
With barely enough sunscreen to make it to Warner Springs tomorrow, the goal of the day was to avoid the sun as much as possible. The plan was to complete the first half of the day, from Third Gate to the campsite about ten miles later just before Montezuma Valley Road, before noon, rest until 2 or so in the shade I presumed would be there, and then hike another eight miles to the campsite just before Warner Springs, making for an easy day into town tomorrow for shower/resupply/food.
I started off with my fleece to hide my skin from the day star as much as possible, making it about a mile before I had to take it off as I was overheating. That mile, though, set the scene for much of the morning: a trail cutting along the mountainside, visible ahead for miles, surrounded by greenery. On the north side of the mountain today, instead of the south side yesterday, there were chances for the mountain to block the sun (though usually not for very long). The vegetation tried to help out and provide shade, but it wasn’t really tall enough. In any case, it was a significant improvement to the trail from yesterday.
I stopped once along the way to put on sunscreen, and briefly a whole lot of times to take photos of the landscape. The morning trail provided views of the town of Ranchita, and, off in the distance, the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains, whose main peak I hope to summit after I leave the town of Idyllwild. We’ll see how that plan is looking next week when I get there. Occasionally, there were tiny little purple flowers on the side of the trail. (Some adventurous specimens were right in the middle of the trail — hope they don’t get stepped on!) There was also a small cave just off the trail, big enough to hold one, maybe two people in a pinch.
Shortly before this afternoon’s campsite, I reached the 100 mile marker. There were three of them, within a few hundred yards or so, for good (bad?) measure.
The campsite itself was nearly a dream. A few tall trees provided copious shade, and a spring ran into a water trough, which itself overflowed into a large concrete cistern (complete with dire warnings to filter the water). I got there around 11:30, successfully meeting my goal of getting there before noon. Hiker Truckee (from the town of the same name further up the trail) was there, and we chatted a bit before he headed off. Someone had left a beer in the cistern, so I took it. Nothing like a cold beer on a warm day after ten miles of hiking.
Lee and Full Sail stopped by, and pointed out the truck and RV in the parking lot just ahead, suggesting it belonged to Possum (whom I met at Lake Morena), who is following his son and nephew (Jumanji) up the trail. (Jumanji also section-hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in 2016; I recognized his name from the shelter logs.)
Shortly after they left for another campsite shortly up the trail, Shenanigans, Anna, and Martin arrived, and I decided to go on a scouting mission for trail magic. (“If I’m not back in five minutes, there’s probably trail magic.”)
I chatted with Possum for a bit, and wound up taking a bag of skittles, some packets of hot sauce, and a comically large 2XL shirt from his hiker box. At least now, I’ll have something with long sleeves that won’t cook me alive in the sun, and when I get something that actually fits properly, I’ll drop this shirt in the next hiker box I come to.
Taking a cue from Shenanigans and the Germans, I cooked dinner for lunch. If I was going to be sitting in place for two hours, may as well make full use of the time.
While I was there, Dock also came and went, and shortly before I left, Jeff, and his orange Airedale terrier, Miley, arrived.
I set off on the second leg of today’s hike around 3, a full hour later than planned. But with dinner covered, it wouldn’t matter too much what time I got to camp, since all I’d have to do is put up my tent. After some more winding around green mountains like this morning, the trail went through four meadows — cow pastures — each one larger than the next. It was a great and unexpected difference from the trail so far, and I could only imagine what it’d look like when fully green.
Along the way, I met Trench Foot, who hiked the PCT in 2016 with his son, and was on the trail for a few days now to do trail maintenance. (He also had apples for hikers — yum!)
Between pastures, there were some pretty interesting plant juxtapositions, with big giant oak trees just off the trail, with cacti nearby.
As the trail went nearby Eagle Rock, I took a detour to the rock formation, which as its name suggests, is vaguely shaped like an eagle. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon, though, and the low sun made it pretty difficult to get a photo. Colleen and Fred, who I had run into last week, were there, I think planning to camp.
The last part of the trail to my campsite for the evening was a nicely tree-lined-and-shaded, with a small stream following the trail for a short distance. I finally made it to a beach-like campsite near Warner Springs around 6:30, got my tent set up, had a snack, and curled up in my sleeping bag just about a quick as I could. Initially it looked like I’d have the place to myself, until Jeff and Miley showed, shortly up after sunset.
But yes, what a difference a day makes. Yesterday felt like the most dismal day of hiking I’ve ever done. Today was one of the nicest.
Tomorrow: Lazy morning, hopefully get a shower at the Warner Springs Community Center, pick up my mail drop, and maybe have an early lunch before heading off to the next trail town, Idyllwild.