T- minus 1 night to PCT: Stayed at Jacumba Hot Springs. They had mineral water swimming pools outside, and a cool little hot spring grotto inside, with a restaurant and bar! If you can swing it, great way to get the trail started!
DAY 1: Hiked the 15.4mi to Hauser Creek, which was well inhabited by fellow campers by the time I showed up. Luckily I found a nice spot just up the way. A German fellow came in kinda late and he looked exhausted. He told me he’d started at 11 and took no breaks. He went down to the river, and when he came back said that he’d felt dizzy and lightheaded. Pound some water man! Instead he went straight to sleep without dinner.
DAY 2: Left camp at dawn to head up Morena Butte. Along the way ran into a few early birds going up the hill. Slowly we snowballed into a little group and headed into the Lake Morena grocery for breakfast. I drank 64oz of hot coffee and ate a brekkie burrito! I split off from the group and checked out the town a little. Passed a few folks along the way, but made it to Kitchen Creek sans company.
Which for me was perfect! Had my own little nude beach! Woot woot!
DAY 3: I’ll admit, I was VERY close to staying another day at Kitchen Creek, it was as close to paradise as I’ve seen in a long while…. but the trail bellows:“HIKE ME!” Conifer trees began appearing on the way up Mt. Laguna. Felt like it’d been awhile since I saw pine needles! The campground was enormous, and weekend warriors were posted up on every other campsite: Hey fellas, looks like the Coleman Convention is in town! I ran into a few familiar faces and started getting a mental grasp of the facilities at Mount Laguna. Ended up getting a few supplies at the store, and dinner at the restaurant.
DAY 4: Left Laguna Mountain before the sun climbed over the horizon. I arrived at Pioneer Mail trailhead a few hours later. A few familiar kids were enjoying the shade of the trees. Hung out for a few hours shooting the shit and cooking lunch, departed a little before three as winds and clouds began pushing from the west. The hike to Sunrise Trailhead was windy, but no precipitation materialized. Some of the kids from Pioneer Mail were there contemplating a stay, but ultimately everyone bounced, ‘cept me and a pair camped behind the water tank.
DAY 5: I woke up a few times in the night to my tent getting shaken around by the wind. When I finally got out of the tent the world was completely grey, just a thick river of fog flowing across the ridge. As I was hiking out in the squall, I decided perhaps I’d hide out for awhile in the concrete vault toilet, cook breakfast and make my plan. Julian was only 14mi down the highway, so I figured instead of hiking out via the PCT, I’d try and thumb it to town. That’s when I heard a knock on the toilet next to me; it was the couple camped at the water tank. “Hiding it in the shithouse too, huh?” Before long more soaked, bedraggled hikers started showing up at the Sunrise vault toilet seeking shelter. I was able to get some cell reception, and booked a room near Julian, and booked one for a German guy hiding in my toilet because his English wasn’t so good. Another pair of dudes in the toilet booked at the same place. Must have been close to ten of us up there, when a pair of trail Angels showed up in a white VW van. They were headed to Julian, and could take four or five. The three guys hiding out in my toilet immediately got in the van, I was close behind. “We’re all booked at the Apple Tree!” I said over the commotion of the van. “No problem, we’ll get ya there, but let’s get some hot coffee and donuts first” responded Bob, the driver.Hot coffee and breakfast were just the thing! Afterwards, our trail angels Bob and Sherry, took the three dudes to the Appletree, while I decided to hang around town for awhile first, learning over breakfast that the Appletree was a few miles out in a smaller town called Wynola.
DAY 6: So I ended up talking up the guys in the next room; Captain Ron and Jukebox. I’d seen them once before at the restaurant in Mount Laguna. After discussing the worsening weather, we decided to split a double for another night in town.We hitched back into town for supplies. I bought a sewing kit and repaired a pocket seam that was coming apart. Later we went to ‘Mom’s’ for the free pie they give to PCT hikers. It was delicious! The Cap’n and Jukebox hitched back to the motel while I stayed around a little longer, taking in Julian.That night me and Juke had a few beers at the wood fired pizza joint across from the motel talking about the long trail ahead.
DAY 7: We were able to contact Bob, our trail angel from before and he agreed to give us a lift from the motel back to the vault toilet where he found us.Bob arrived in a white Tesla, and we loaded up are gear from the trunk to the frunk. I’d never been in a Tesla before, it had some real ‘get-up and go’. On the way Bob stopped at the Candied Apple Café in Julian for some coffee and pastries to get the day started right.With bellies full of coffee and donuts we got back on trail with about 18mi to Scissors Crossing. After ten hours of hot sun, blooming desert and military aircraft buzzing over head, the shade of the Scissors Underpass was a very welcome sight.Beneath the roadway, a collection of black plastic stock tubs contained gallons of Kirkland Signature water jugs. There were less than a dozen hikers camped out at the cache, mostly gathered around a the beer cooler, generously provided by trail angels, Snakefarm and Snow. They’d both hiked the trail before, and had plenty of stories to share. A handful of us stayed up into the night drinking Coors beneath the stars.
DAY 8: Leaving Scissors, we began to climb into the San Felipe mountains northwest toward Warner Springs, but it’d still be a night out until we got there.We’d heard that the best chance for water was the 3rd Gate Cache, a little over dozen miles ahead, after that: next stop Warner Springs!Thinking about a shower, hot coffee and laundry helped me push the way to the cache. The lovely views overlooking the San Felipe Valley didn’t hurt much either! There were a handful of people camped along the spur trail down to the cache, and a few more hanging out around the covered pallets of water jugs and empty jug cage that made up the cache. It was good to hang with the crowd the for a few, before lacing up the boots again to make use of the remaining daylight to get a few miles closer to Warner.
DAY 9: That night we’d camped atop a large outcrop looking out on the hills, and were treated to a beautiful sunrise. About 8 miles away, at Barrel Spring, we ran into a trail angel party offering a delectable variety of goodies!Their son had completed the trail some years back, and they had much to tell us about his travels.Over a breakfast of cheetos, fruit, cinnamon rolls, boiled eggs and beer we all talked trail and reveled in the morning. On the way out we took a couple trail beers and set out for Eagle Rock, our last stop before Warner Springs. Along the way there was a drastic shift in the local ecosystem, from desert hills to the almost surreal grasslands outside of Warner Springs. The maroon tinged prairie seemed to flow like a river beneath the breeze. Jukebox was the first to sight Eagle Rock, but even with him describing it: “dude, I’m telling you the part on the left is a wing, that part in the middle is the beak…!
I just wasn’t seeing it. When we got close though, I’ll admit, it looked like an eagle. I took a surprise nap under the shade of the eagle’s great stone wing.
Just down the trail, as thru miles go, we arrived at Warner Springs. Across the highway, the Warner Springs Community Center was swarming with hikers. Inside a volunteer gave us a run down of the facility; bucket showers, bucket laundry and the camp store. “You can set up by the big tree out there, you’ll see the tents!” Just outside the camp area was the defacto smoker’s table, where a handful of familiar faces were knocking back some cold ones and talking shop…