Day 22: Blue Ridge Campground to Little Jimmy Spring. 16 miles.
April 16th, 2017.
A final snow day.
I opened my eyes to my alarm, but I’d been awake for hours. It was almost too cold to sleep, but that was a good thing for the day’s main mission: Mt. Baden-Powell, the last snow hurdle of Southern California.
I’d wanted to get an early start, while the snow was still hard and my microspikes would have the most bite. I was still seven miles away from the base of Baden-Powell, so I had to get moving. As I fired down the trail, I ate breakfast on the uphills, then switched into a light run along the downhills.
I came across Grassy Hollow welcome center and there was a water faucet! It was the first water source on trail in almost 30 miles! I excitedly downed an entire liter of ration-free water before I tasted the harsh metallic aftertaste…
‘Well… at least it’s water.’ I grimaced and put the water away, praying the taste was just taste, not something that would hurt me.
I struck hiker gold when I came across an unlocked pit toilet as I crossed Highway 2. The rest stop was eerily deserted. Everything was covered in trash and graffiti, but the scene was void of life. Just one, isolated hiker.
By 6 a.m. I was standing at the base of the mountain. In the first sizeable patch of snow, someone had carved in the words “NEED ICE AXE” in large letters, with an arrow pointing up the trail.
My stomach sank as I paused next to the large, ominous message. I knew there wasn’t many ahead of me. I knew most people were skipping Baden-Powell. Hell, even Breeze, who’d completed a purist winter traverse of the Appalachian Trail, had skipped around Baden-Powell! Was it really that bad up there?
“We’ll see,” I muttered to myself as I continued up the trail “the PCT goes through Baden Powell, so you’re going to at least go see for yourself.”
I didn’t have my ice axe, but I knew I could turn around. I was confident in my risk management, but wasn’t about to give up because someone of unknown ability carved a message in some snow. I was out here to hike the PCT, not to hike around or hitch past the PCT.
I sat down gently to avoid ripping my pants, felt my stupid pants rip further open anyways, and put my microspikes on. I continued on past larger and larger snowfields and I was soon walking across solid snow coverage. There were faint tracks to follow from backcountry skiers, and the signs of people ahead of me were comforting. The angle of the snow steepened, and I found myself confronting ice axe territory.
I wasn’t about to admit the sign was right, though. Not yet, at least.
The snow was firm, and I had decent traction. I left the faint trail worn in by skiers with skins on their skis for a lower angle section with more trees. Since I didn’t have an ice axe, I didn’t have a method of self-arresting on the steep snow, so I wanted some big objects below me that I could collide with if I did start to slide. Not ideal, but manageable. I pleaded with the trail gods to keep me on my feet. I really didn’t want to test out just how many pounds of snow I could shovel through the gaping hole in my pants and into my underwear if I went down.
After about a mile of carefully digging in each foot and perfectly planting each trekking pole, I arrived at lower angle snow. I breathed a sigh of relief and stepped it out until the junction with the spur trail that led to the summit of Baden-Powell. I usually try to minimize extra mileage while I’m hiking, but the spur was a short stretch of steep snow leading to the summit. The climber in me has a hard time working so hard to gain elevation without the reward of standing on top of something, so I headed up the snow.
I arrived at the summit and spent a few minutes enjoying the views and my accomplishment, proud of my call to give it a go. There were a few backcountry skiers at the summit, and as I approached I received bewildered stares.
I said hello and without returning the greeting, one of the skiers immediately demanded, “Where’s your gear?”
I explained that I was on the PCT and another skier worriedly asked, “But you have crampons on you, right??”
I laughed and pointed down at my trusty little microspikes, “Just these things”.
I could tell they were all uncomfortable with my gear selection. But based on the spread out variety of skis, snowshoes, and crampons in the snow around them, it seemed that they were maybe a tad annoyed that I was up there alongside them without having to use any more aggressive snow gear than microspikes.
I received more warnings of the danger ahead. More threats of impending doom if I continued to follow the PCT down the other side of Baden-Powell without crampons. So naturally, I thanked them and headed down the other side of Baden-Powell, hopelessly cramponless. On the way back to the spur junction, I slid past another backcountry skier with a puzzled look at the small spikes on my feet.
From the spur trail junction with the PCT, the footprints disappeared. This would be a section of trail really only used by PCT hikers ahead of me, and there weren’t many. The snow was steep, and I painfully kicked in steps in the softening snow one after the other. Progress was agonizingly slow, but after a mile the ridge was getting closer. I was finally able to gain the snow-free south side of the ridge and picked up the pace. Alternating between snow and dry ridge, I was able make solid progress and eventually found myself on dry trail again.
I was starving from the physically and emotionally taxing previous day and the climb up Baden Powell, so I was stopping every couple miles, too irrationally hungry to keep hiking. I had intended on pushing 30 miles with my pre-dawn start, but I couldn’t seem to stay on my feet for more than 20 minutes at a time before I’d be sitting down, eating again. Most of the time, I wouldn't even be able to wait for a reasonable log or rock to sit on. My stomach would command me to plop down in the middle of the trail like a child and spoon my food bag until I was satisfied enough to keep walking. At 16 miles, the sun had ducked and I arrived at Little Jimmy Spring and its amazingly pure water. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and starving, so I decided I needed to call it for the day.
Grateful for making it through the day unscathed, I set up my tent in yet another deserted campground, made some food, and even warmed up some extra water for laundry.
The lovely grit that had worn my feet raw the day before was still in my socks, and it needed to go. I washed all my socks, without remembering that I needed a dry pair to sleep in for the cold night ahead… so I said a quick f-word, ringed one pair out, threw em on my feet, and slid them into my sleeping bag.
It would’ve been uncomfortable if I could’ve stayed awake longer than 10 seconds.
Total mileage along the PCT: 384
Total mileage with detours: 405
Day 23: Little Jimmy Spring to Fountain Spring. 30 miles.
April 17th, 2017.
A Highway 2 day.
I woke early without an alarm. It was cold and windy, which would normally keep me in my sleeping bag, but I finally felt energized again. It seemed I’d slept, drank, and eaten enough to reverse the drain from my food poisoning a few nights earlier.
I stepped out of my tent into the black, windy morning. After gathering my socks I’d set out to dry that the wind had tossed around camp, I packed up my gear and was hiking by the dim blue dawn light toward Mt. Williamson. I encountered snow almost immediately, but nothing I needed to stop to put microspikes on for.
I crossed Highway 2 again, and once again took advantage of the horrific pit toilets. This particular toilet had a large fire stain in one corner, the black soot crawling all the way up the concrete, graffitied wall. Someone had obviously been living in there at some point.
While in the middle of judging, I reminded myself that even I’d never lived in a house with a fireplace in the bathroom… and crawled down off my high horse.
With the good sleep, good water, plenty of food, and a solid poop, I felt really good on the trail. I hiked steeply uphill into some low-lying clouds until I hit the junction for Mt. Williamson. It had started raining and the wind kicked up. The peak was almost a mile detour, but once again my inner-climber kicked in and I wanted to stand on top of something. I headed into snowy ridge traversing, pushing through driving rain and gusting wind, enjoying every second. I was in the zone, but eventually I reached a section of the ridge that seemed like it was heading downhill… Had I missed the peak??
Mt. Williamson’s peak was behind me. It wasn’t a prominent point, just the slightly highest portion of the ridge I’d been following. I wasn’t too upset though. Ridge traversing in bad weather had been good for the soul, bringing me home to the Sierra for just a little bit. I turned around, hit the peak, high-fived myself, and headed back down before getting blown off the top from the ever-increasing winds.
I crossed Highway 2 a couple more times as the trail continued to follow and crisscross the road before hitting a trail closure for an endangered species of frog. The closure was only a few miles of roadwalking down Highway 2, so I put away my trekking poles and strolled down the center of the deserted highway, enjoying a gigantic bag of sour gummy worms.
The enormous amount of trash on and around the road was discouraging. Why are we so disgusting as a species? What is it about some people that don’t think twice about leaving their trash outside? It’s tough to maintain your faith in humanity as a whole when you see the ramping disregard for nature every time you near a population center, then watch the trash and graffiti disappear as you escape back into the wild.
I picked up as much trash as I could reasonably pack with me and continued down the still road, watching falling pine cones pinball their way down through the gigantic pine trees. Eventually, I left the road and headed downhill through a super nice, also deserted, campground until I hit the junction with the PCT.
The rest of the day was uneventful, crossing Highway 2 several more times as I passed the 400 mile marker. I passed some Poodle Dog Bush for the first time, supposedly another toxic plant like Poison Oak. I was going on two days without seeing another hiker and I came up on Wes! I hadn’t seen him since meeting and camping with him at Caribou Creek with my mom almost a week earlier.
Wes told me about the few other hikers ahead who had bypassed Baden-Powell, himself included, who had opted to take a lower, desert route to avoid the snow travel. Breeze was part of that group, which I was surprised to hear. I knew he was a pretty ardent thru-hiking purist, and skipping a major challenge like Baden-Powell is what keeps purists up at night…
‘I’ll make sure and remind him whenever I see him next.’ I laughed to myself as I settled in for the night.
We had stopped at an exposed, windy campsite just past Fountainhead Spring overlooking the beautiful city lights in Palmdale and Lancaster. Wes and I had some good conversation about the hike and it felt good to have some company in camp for the night.
Total mileage along the PCT: 412
Total mileage with detours: 435
Day 24: Fountain Spring to Acton KOA campground. 25 miles.
April 18th, 2017.
A large pizza day.
Sleep was hard-fought. Winds were unpredictable all night, and I’d repeatedly be woken up after a long, still pause by a massive, deafening gust that threatened to rip the tent’s stakes out of the ground. Clouds surrounded our camp and heavy condensation collected on the tent walls and settled on my sleeping bag
I was awake early, but refused to budge from my damp sleeping bag. Facing the cold, wet wind that had battered my tent all night long didn’t sound pleasant. Eventually, the sun broke through the clouds long enough to get me moving. As I emerged from my tent, Wes looked cold and let me know he was hitting the trail to get his blood moving and that we’d meet up at the Mill Creek fire station about seven miles down the trail.
I groggily rolled up all of my wet belongings, fighting the winds and looking forward to warming up myself. With numb hands and blisters on my heels from the previous day, I struggled to move quick enough to warm up. As I hobbled down the trail in the misty forest, I had one thing pulling me forward: I was going to see Melanie the next day.
Eventually, my aches and pains subsided and feeling returned to all limbs. We reached Mill Creek fire station and after a quick hunt, we found a water faucet to fill up on the side of the building. The last major trail closure in Southern California was in front of us: the Sand Fire closure.
Wes was planning on hitching a ride around the 21 miles of trail, which sounded much nicer than what I had planned. I was stubbornly sticking to connecting steps around closures, so I said goodbye to Wes and headed down the busy Angeles Forest Highway on foot.
I only had to walk three miles along the highway until a quieter paved road would take me into the town of Acton, but cars were flying around corners and the shoulders narrowed to almost nothing at times. My blisters and sore muscles protested as I’d wait for cars to pass, then sprint past the dangerous sections to get back to wide shoulders to walk along. I safely reached Aliso Canyon Road and took off down the quiet paved road.
I was grateful my level of safety had improved, but without the mental stimulation of dodging cars on the highway, the long, rolling roadwalk was crawling by. My stomach wasn’t helping.
Hiker hunger was in full swing and I couldn’t make it more than 30 minutes between eating something. After continuous snacking and still starving, I eventually gave up and threw down my pack in an asphalt drainage gutter. I went to town on my food bag. Every extra scrap of food I had went into my belly. I made four giant ghetto fish tacos. Each soft taco tortilla was stuffed to the hilt with salmon, horseradish sauce, and smashed Fritos chips.
A large lizard sunbathing in the drainage, taking advantage of the warm, black asphalt, hung out only a couple feet from me, watching me put down pounds of food. I fruitlessly chased that elusive feeling of hunger satiation until my food bag was completely empty. I said goodbye to my lizard friend and got back on the road, feeling better, but I knew I had to move.
I knew the hunger would be back before I reached food in Acton.
I did what I could to pass the miles. I listened to music and podcasts. I talked to myself. I counted lizards. I did anything to remove my brain from the monotonous roadwalk. The huge amount of food I had eaten was fighting me too. My full belly was signaling that it was nap time to the rest of my body, but I still had miles to walk!
After a few miles, I gave in to the urge and found a large shoulder on the side of the road. I threw down my sitting pad and lied down, simultaneously closing my eyes and rapidly fell asleep.
I awoke to a pinch on my leg. I opened my eyes, sat up, and realized I’d decided to lie down right next to a bustling anthill. I stood up and shook the remaining ants out of my pants and figured that was a good sign it was time to keep walking.
I felt better from the little power nap and picked up the pace. I eventually started walking past farms and ranches and cell service appeared. I gave Melanie a call and talked to her for a long time until I reached a small grocery store in Acton. There was a deli inside the grocery store, so I said bye to Mel and went into the store.
It was game time.
I rang the bell at the deli counter as I glanced over the menu. There were pizzas for eight bucks. Done. A grumpy black lady appeared at the bell, barking a sharp “What?” in my direction.
A tad irritated, I ignored her garbage attitude and ordered a supreme pizza. Let’s be real, she could’ve thrown a handful of anthrax in my face and my dying words would’ve been my pizza order.
I roamed through the grocery store like a kid in a candy store. I figured an eight dollar pizza wouldn’t be enough food, so I grabbed a pint of ice cream and a big bag of potato chips. Ms. GrumpyPants barked across the store that my pizza was ready, threw it down, and disappeared in the back. I skipped back to the deli, stopping dead in my skippy tracks when I saw the pizza box sitting on the counter.
It was huge. I lifted it up and was surprised at how heavy it was. It was a large pizza, with a ton of veggies and meat piled on top.
‘For eight dollars??’ I asked myself, since there were no overly rude employees around to ask.
I put the ice cream and chips back, grabbed a giant beer and a Dr. Pepper from the cooler, paid for my pile of pizza, and sat down at a rusty table sitting outside the store. I opened the box up, giddy with anticipation of being able to eat as much pizza as I possibly could, since there was no way I’d finish this beast in one sitting.
Pshh. Gurrl, please.
I ate 3/4 of the pizza through a blackout of hiker happiness before regaining consciousness long enough to open the beer I had forgot about in all the happiness. The last couple slices easily went down and I enjoyed the rest of my beer and soda, completely satisfied for the first time in a long while. The pizza must’ve been between three and four pounds. I had no idea how my stomach was handling so much food, but I didn’t even feel full, merely comfortably satisfied.
I headed back to the road for the last five miles to the Acton KOA campground. The shoulders on the roads were large, so the hiking wasn’t stressful. I called my little sister, Aubri, and got a quick update on college, boys etc. until I lost cell service. The last couple miles seemingly took forever. I finally arrived at the KOA and wandered over to a table with a few people that looked like hikers.
I said hello and met Monster, Porsche, and Pauline. All three were German, but only Monster was hiking the whole trail. Monster’s trail name was fitting. He was a towering man with a gigantic pack to match. He’d hitched around the Sand Fire closure like Wes, but Wes had headed further along the trail before camping for the night.
Monster also planned on heading straight into the snowy Sierra, which meant he’d be one of the first of the season to attempt a push through those mountains. We sat down and talked about Sierra resupply options and gear choices over some couscous and hot chocolate.
I ate dinner five miles after eating an entire large pizza.
My pants were in garbage shape, but I had made it to Acton and Mel was bringing me new pants!! I went to sleep, pleased that my days of sewing would soon be behind me.