Sandy provides another update on our PCT progress.
Since our last post we have arrived in Tehachapi, CA, located about 35 miles southeast of Bakersfield.
The 224-mile section we completed since leaving Cajon Junction exposed us to a variety of terrain as we hiked. We also had to deal with several long stretches without reliable water, the first being the day we left Cajon. It was 28 miles to the next water source and the trail climbed almost the entire way. Fortunately, the weather was cool, but our backs were straining under the weight of our packs containing seven liters of water each, along with eight days worth of food until our next resupply in the town of Agua Dolce.
As we climbed from Cajon we entered the Angeles National Forest. It was established in 1908 as California’s first National forest. We walked through the mountains for several days, climbing to a maximum elevation of 9,300 feet near the peak of Mount Baden-Powell. There were a few dicey snow patches that we had to navigate through on the trail, making me wish I had my microspikes that I would be receiving for use in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Baden-Powell’s summit was only a tenth of a mile off the trail and I was tired once we got there, so initially just Darren went to the top. However, I decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so walked to join him on the top of the mountain, at an elevation of 9,406 feet. We also spent time hiking through several burn areas and had to leave the trail to walk through two detours: one to protect an endangered frog and one around a recent fire. Walking through the fire closure took us to the town of Lake Hughes, where we nabbed a hotel room above a bar and restaurant and spent a half day relaxing.
Back on the PCT, the trail continued through oak forests and provided some of our favorite scenery of the section. Another thing we liked about the Angeles National Forest were the series of trail camps, which provided the opportunity to overnight with a picnic table and outhouse close by. It was a real luxury for us after sitting on rocks and logs and using natural bathrooms.
Finally, we left the forest and came to the Mojave Desert. Here, we walked over 20 miles with no shade next to an aqueduct before many miles of traversing through a series of dusty hills. Because of the heat, many hikers take a “siesta” and rest during the hottest part of the day and still others hike the miles during a series of night hikes. We chose to hike per our regular schedule as the temperatures were only in the 80s and we felt that the heat would only add to our fitness.
While hiking towards Tehachapi we came across scores of Joshua Trees and also passed through (and slept in) a series of wind farms. True to the area, we encountered strong winds some days, slowing our progress and making for some noisy nights in our tent.
We also continued to come across rattlesnakes and had a running joke about “snake hour,” which took place between 8:00 am and 9:00 am each day. Inevitablely we would encounter rattlesnakes during that time, including the day we heard one in the grass next to us only to move away and almost step on another coiled on the actual trail!
One of the best things about this section of the PCT were the “trail angels” we encountered. These are people who help out hikers by providing food, drinks, or even a place to stay. Some, like in Agua Dolce and near Lancaster, allow you to send resupply boxes, so we spent several hours at each place, relaxing, taking a shower, and getting ready for the miles ahead. Other trail angels turn out when you least expect it, like when we had finished a 17-mile stretch without water in the Mojave Desert, only to come across a structure in the middle of nowhere. Inside, hot dogs, baked beans, and popcorn were being prepared and cool sodas and beers were available. Water caches set up periodically were also welcome and we used the opportunity to “camel” and drink a liter each from the stache before continuing on.
In Tehachapi we took a couple of days off before tackling the final portion of the desert leading up to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Among other things, we received a box with new shoes to replace the ones worn out from the first 500 miles of hiking.