We took off from Big Bear Lake fast and strong. Our sights were set on the town of Wrightwood and the summit just beyond it, Mount Baden-Powell. This next section marked the last big climb of the desert portion of the PCT. The next time we would reach elevations of the likes of Mount San Jacinto and Mount Baden-Powell would be in the Sierra Nevada.
As we hit the ground running we knocked out a couple of back to back 19 mile days. This consistent speed was a new record for us, and one that we anticipated to keep breaking. While we were strongly motivated to complete the last of the three big climbs, this time around we had a handful of treats lying along the way.
Once again we found ourselves meandering between pine trees and cactuses as the alpine forests faded into desert with our loss of elevation. Water and shade became luxuries we planned our days around. To no surprise, the water sources with the most shade ended up where you would run into other hikers hanging about.
It was at one of these watering holes that we met RoboCop for the first time. He was a boisterous former sheriff who was on his fourth PCT hike and had previously done both the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. This time around he was a going a bit slower thanks to that whole aging thing. He told us embellished stories from his previous trips about getting into fights with rangers and helping out fellow hikers. We know they were embellished because he told us they were. After spending some time chatting and snacking, we finally filled up our water bottles and moved on, wondering if we would meet RoboCop again.
Back home there’s a place called Inman Oasis that I frequent with my girlfriend. True to the ‘oasis’ concept, it’s a public hot tub set in a relaxing atmosphere. It offers a zen filled break from the bustle of life in the city around it. I know I’ve mentioned finding oasises in the desert before, but this time we found one that keeps in line with what the Inman Oasis does so well. This was the Deep Creek Hot Springs.
Deep Creek Hot Springs is a sanctuary set miles from any civilization. After hiking all day in the desert, we suddenly came across a cold river wide enough and deep enough you could swim in it. Sure enough, plenty of people were. This area was teaming with hikers, all looking for a break from the endless walking.
The river was far from the main attraction though. Coming out of the ground all around the area was multiple hot springs, each one dammed up with stone walls. These springs were heated to the perfect temperatures to create a natural hot tub in the middle of the wilderness.
I dipped my feet in to see what it was like, and sure enough it was everything I had heard it would be. Unfortunately I had also heard it was filled with bacteria seeing as it was routinely filled with dirty hikers and unlike Inman Oasis, there was no chlorine to keep it sanitary. Sorry for the buzzkill.
The Silverwood Lake Rabbit
We continued through the desert as we made our way to the Mojave dam. At one point the heat of the desert sun (94°) and a lack of drinking enough water got to me as I started to feel fatigued and headachey. Thankfully some shade and water got me back on my feet in no time.
We kept pushing through the desert for a couple of days when we unexpectedly came across Silverwood Lake. As we came over the crest of yet another barren mountain ridge, we were suddenly greeted by a massive lake with lush pine forests rising around all sides of it and sandy beaches along it’s edges. We circled the lake for the remainder of the day as we made our way closer to our campsite.
It was here that I saved a baby bunny’s life. I was nearing the tent site when the little guy ran out in front of me and skittered away into the bushes. Shortly after that I heard what sounded like a distressed squeal, which I just assumed was out of it’s fear of me. I was going to keep going but decided to go look anyways. To my surprise, the bunny was caught in the coil of an insidious snake. I went to grab a stick to throw at it, and as soon as the snake saw me move it bolted and the rabbit ran free. He sat there shaking for a bit before running off to find his rabbit friends and some delicious grass to munch on.
I’m Loving It
The next morning we got up before the break of dawn and we’re back on the trail while the Moon was still our light source. We had a goal in mind, a promise of a deliciously gourmet lunch. For 13 miles away, there was a McDonald’s just a short ways off the trail.
We meandered through mountains and deserts. Past lakes and through canyons. All with the thought of a juicy Big Mac and a side of fries drifting through our heads.
The McDonald’s was located at Cajon Pass, a major intersection for transportation. There was a 4 lane highway filled with cars flying by in all directions. A little ways in the distance was what appeared to be several unending freight trains, slowly chugging towards their destinations. And then there was the PCT and it’s hikers, all congregating at this interstate rest stop.
After our fast food indulgence (which even Dennis, Mr. Superfood, thoroughly enjoyed) we decided to stay the night at the Best Western along the freeway. The most exciting thing about it? They had a hot tub. Unlike Deep Creek Hot Springs, this one was fully chlorinated and bacteria free!
We were joined by these two German section hikers in the hot tub. They went by the names of Guitar and Princess. We shared a couple of beers and a couple of stories about hiking and our countries (they get like 6 weeks vacation minimum over there!)
The exciting hiking stories turned sad, however, as they recounted their time hiking a section of the PCT last year. They had become good friends with a Japanese girl who went by the name of Strawberry. Strawberry had become well known amongst hikers as she was one of two girls who passed away from drowning while crossing a river during the summer of 2017.
Guitar and Princess had been hiking with her since day one, and stayed with her for a month before they had to fly back to Germany. A few weeks later Strawberry stayed behind while the rest of the group she was with went ahead. The next day she went missing, it was her first time ever hiking alone.
There is a YouTube video that Dennis and I had watched that was uploaded in Strawberry’s honor back when the event happened. She was sitting there listening to a man play the guitar. We found out that the video was uploaded by Guitar himself, and that was him playing in it. It was a very chilling moment to be so close to a tragedy we had only ever read about online.
Oodles of Poodles
The next morning we had waffles for breakfast at the hotel. A carb surplus would do us well as we set forth on a two day stretch of all uphill. We quickly found ourselves face to face with an unexpected obstacle- the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush.
Poodle Dog Bush is an evil plant. It is poisonous, with skin rashes comparable or worse than that of poison oak. The top leaves are green, but the leaves below are all gray, wilted, and dead. This, combined with the fact that it grows outwards up to several meters in length, gives it an appearance like it’s reaching for life while everything beneath it dies. It only grows in recent forest fires, so often times it will be standing amongst a forest of blackened tree carcasses. On top of all that, it has a rank smell that fills the air. There is no mistake that a Poodle Dog Bush is nearby.
The PDB was overgrown in this section of the trail. There were stems reaching out from the sides as if it was trying to grab you and pull you in. In other spots there was smaller growths directly in the center of the path. It felt like one of those dodge the laser games you play at an arcade, only instead of losing an few quarters you end up with severe skin burns.
Above It All
The one sure way to escape inclement weather is to be above it. Sure enough that’s just what we did. As we made our way higher and higher, we were treated to some brilliant undercast. Everyone down below was likely complaining about the cold and cloudy day, but their misery was our picturesque day of hiking.
We finally made it to the town of Wrightwood and treated ourselves to some delicious all you can eat Mexican food. A day off was in order too, as we had been going strong for several weeks.
The morning before we headed back on the trail we went for breakfast at the only place open that early of a time. While we waited to place our order, another hiker walked in, and it was none other than RoboCop.
We invited him to join us and got to chatting. He told us more of his exciting and embellished stories. But the more we talked the more we got to know the real man behind all the bravado. Of his four kids, two had passed away. One at birth and the other drowned at age 5. Shortly after his wife left him, claiming he reminded her too much of the son they had lost. RoboCop was out here not so much for the adventure, but for the peace he could find only from getting away.
After our breakfast we said farewell, not knowing if we would cross paths again. RoboCop went back to his hotel room and Dennis and I headed down to the road to get a hitch back to the trail.
‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Night
Our luck with sunshine ran out that day. We were dropped off at the trail head amidst a dense fog. It was so cold, the dew on the trees had frozen and the pine needles had become icicles. It was going to be even colder at the summit of Mount Baden-Powell.
We pushed fast, I didn’t see Dennis for the rest of the day. Every time I stopped to wait I would start to get chills after few minutes and had to keep moving to stay warm.
I reached the summit and enjoyed the stark whiteness alone. On a clear day you can see for miles in all directions. On one side is Los Angeles, and to other the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. But that day there was only white. I started to get cold and continued on my way.
That night we camped by a parking lot high up in the mountains. The fog turned to a light freezing rain and my tent was unable to handle it. Drips started leaking through the rain cover, threatening to soak my sleeping bag and my one way of staying warm. Dennis helped me rapidly move my tent and all of my stuff to a more protected location under some trees. That helped with the ceiling, but that night water continued to leak in through the floor. Needles to say I will be getting a new tent and writing a very poor review of this one.
Stairway to Heaven
The next morning we awoke to an inch of snow on the ground and on the outside of our tents. We packed them away, full of an extra 2lbs of frozen water. As we continued onward, we were treated to a brilliant clearing of the storm. The views from the fog lifting topped the amazing undercast from a few days before.
We continued downward, and as we moved further from the high summits we could see first hand how deserts are formed. All morning we had been hiking in snow, but just a few miles into the other side of the ridgeline, the ground was as dry as could be. In one direction there were brilliant clouds and snow covered trees, the other way were bushes and dirt slowly transitioning into a barren desert.
With Baden-Powell complete, we were done with all of the three big climbs of the desert section. The environment did another one of it’s now familiar changes as the forests turned bushes and cactuses. The next point on our horizon was a little place known as Hiker Heaven.