PCT Part 6: Horror Movie

Wrightwood (Mile 369) to Agua Dulce (Mile 454)

Boy, it’s been a hell of a week.

I ended up taking three whole zeros in Wrightwood, thanks in no small part to its brewery and handful of cheap restaurants. I finally left town on Wednesday morning with Tidbit, a 31-year-old woman and former national park ranger from Texas who lives in Southern California.

We lumbered out to the highway around 8:30AM, our packs heavy with a week’s worth of food. The first vehicle I thumbed – a pickup truck – pulled over, and we clambered into the tray. The driver, a friendly local named Joe, gave us a ride out to the trailhead at Inspiration Point while his two dogs rode with him in the cabin.

20 minutes later we were back on the trail, and headed to the summit of Mount Baden-Powell. It would be my first major peak of my hike, after skipping San Jacinto because of my heart problems near Idyllwild. We reached the base by mid-morning, and began the ascent up a seemingly never-ending series of long, steep switchbacks.

We came across a spring about halfway up, and stopped to collect water. We ate lunch as we caught our breath. The air grew thinner as we continued upward, and patches of snow began to intrude on the smooth dirt trail. Within a mile, the trail was nothing but a set of footprints through deep snow.

About 1.5 miles from the summit, the footprints stopped winding back and forth across the mountain and turned straight up. We trudged slowly up the steep mountain face, choosing each step carefully. One slip and the slick snow would carry you a long way down.

A hiker who’d gone two days before us, Moneymaker, had fallen on the way up, and slid 20 feet before hitting a tree. He injured one of his arms in the process, and ended up being helicoptered off the mountain. Luckily, his injuries weren’t serious and he’s back on trail.

We made it to the summit by mid-afternoon, and enjoyed a spectacular view of other mountains and clouds far below us. On a clear day you can just spot the downtown LA skyline from the top, but it was completely obscured by clouds. We caught up with Rampage and Lionheart, who I hadn’t seen since Big Bear. Also at the top was True Grit, who I last saw at Deep Creek.

After a break near the top, Tidbit and I continued along the ridge, slowly negotiating the deep, angled snow. By 6:30 we’d only made it 11 miles for the day, but we were beginning to run out of light. We decided not to push on to Little Jimmy campground, and made camp at a flat spot by the trail instead. Short on water, I melted some snow to make pasta for dinner.

We left not long after sunrise the next morning, intending to make it 20 trail miles to Camp Glenwood – a kids summer camp that allows hikers to stay on their property. The actual walk was around 22 miles, thanks to a diversion that requires hikers to walk along a highway to avoid a section populated by the endangered Mountain Yellow Frog.

First we climbed Mount Williamson, a 1200-foot ascent that was happily free of snow. Tidbit and I had lunch at the summit with a group of other hikers including Marguerite, who I met in my first week but hadn’t seen since. She’d injured her ankle and taken time off the trail in Palm Springs to let it heal.

We made it to the highway in the early afternoon. At first, the asphalt was a welcome break from the rocky, uneven trail, but that lasted about five minutes. The hard pavement was much harder on my knees, and my left knee complained all three miles. We left the road at Buckhorn Campground, where a spur trail links back up to the PCT. Entering Buckhorn was like walking into northern California. The arid, rocky desert was replaced with a valley of huge cedar trees surrounding a gushing river.

We passed the 400 mile marker after a long climb, then staggered into Camp Glenwood just before dark. I made some kind of rice dish – not my best – and collapsed onto my air mattress.

The next morning, we woke up under a blanket of fog. Condensation was dripping from the ceiling of my tent, and a pool of ice-cold water had formed around my feet, soaking my shorts. Wonderful. I decided to hike in my thermal bottoms instead. As we packed up camp, we were pelted with a scattering of hail, followed by a light drizzle.

Enterprise, a guy from Scotland who hiked the trail before, had told us about a restaurant on Highway 2, only a few miles ahead. We decked ourselves out in our rain gear and trudged to the highway. It was the first time I got to use my umbrella in the rain and I was glad to have it, as I’ve yet to come across rainwear that doesn’t eventually soak through.

We made it to the empty highway by 9AM and began the 1.8 mile road walk to Newcomb’s Ranch Restaurant. When we got there, we stripped off our wet gear on the porch and left it to air out. Inside it was wonderfully warm, and full of members of a Porsche club. The waitress told us they drive up from Los Angeles every Friday.

Hot coffee warmed me up, then I demolished a huge breakfast burrito. We hung around after we’d finished eating, not keen to go back out into the cold. I dried my shorts under a hand dryer in the bathroom. When the restaurant closed at noon, our waitress dropped by our table with the check and a tray full of cooked bacon. “We were just gonna throw this out but I know you guys are hungry,” she said. We tucked in.

The friendly waitress also offered us a ride back to the trail, which we gratefully accepted. With full stomachs we hiked on through the mist, which hung around all day. We ended the day at the Mill Creek fire station, 18 miles from where we began.

I pitched my tent next to a toilet block just as a storm was rolling in, and sheltered in the block’s vestibule while I made dinner. Tidbit turned up about half an hour later and we ate together. All the other hikers had already retreated to their tents. Light rain was sprinkling the tent when I went to sleep.

Roaring winds woke me up in the middle of the night, amplified by the sound of pouring rain and the loud flapping of my tent’s fabric. A stake had come loose in the gale. Grumbling, I hunted around for my rain gear and put it on. I dashed out of the tent into the downpour, and fumbled with freezing fingers to put the stake back in its place. I found a large rock and put it on top, just in case. I returned to the tent dripping, and tried my best to keep the soaked gear away from my sleeping bag. Eventually I drifted back to sleep.

When I woke, a murky puddle had formed at the foot of my tent once again. The wind was still howling and the sky was ominously dark, but at least the rain had stopped. I took shelter with other hikers in the toilet vestibule while I ate breakfast and crammed my soaking wet stuff into my backpack.

I left camp in my rain gear, but within minutes the sun had emerged and it began to get hot. I stopped and took it all off less than a mile from camp. It alternated between stifling humid heat and cold winds all day. Mountains do weird things to the weather.

All day I hiked along a ridge, often looking down over the large town of Palmdale. I stopped at creek with other hikers to refill water in the mid-afternoon. As we were talking, we heard a rumble from the sky, and spotted a huge storm system moving towards us. It began to spit. I took off, trying to beat the storm to the North Fork Ranger station, where I planned to camp. I jogged for a short section as the storm moved in before we all got a lucky break. The storm turned, and never hit us.

I limped into the ranger station on aching feet. The ranger was selling sodas and chips to raise money for charity, so I happily bought a drink and three packets of chips. I scoffed the lot at a picnic table and heated up some pre-made jambalaya for dinner. The storm threatened us again as the sun began to dip, but again it turned away.

My feet were still aching the next morning, as were Tidbit’s. I’d planned to hike 18 miles to Agua Dulce that day, but my feet clearly weren’t going to co-operate. Instead, we aimed for the KOA campground at Acton, 8.5 miles away. The hike only took a few hours, but it was hot as hell with almost no shade. Tidbit and I arrived at the KOA soaked in sweat.

I bought a frozen cheeseburger and an ice cream from the office, then showered and washed my clothes. While hanging out in the rec room watching Gilligan’s Island, we overheard one of the KOA staff telling other campers that a film crew from LA would be shooting a horror movie at the campground that evening.

I spent the afternoon soaking my sore feet in the hot tub and hanging out by the pool. Tidbit and I bought frozen pizzas from the office and cooked them in an oven in the rec room. As the sun went down, the film crew rolled up and set up shop on the far end of the campground. We wandered over to take a peek and got told off by a KOA employee for taking pictures of the set.

When we got back to our camp, the screaming started. The actress was evidently in some kind of mortal peril – possibly involving giant rats – and must have been killed 100 times throughout the shoot. Crew members walked back and forth past the hiker campground all night, talking loudly. I managed to sleep through most of it, but Tidbit said she was awake all night. KOA staff wouldn’t tell us what the movie was, but I’m going to find it when it comes out and give it zero stars on IMDB.

The next day was forecast to be another scorcher, so Tidbit and I left early to get the day’s climb out of the way before it got too hot. We made it to Vasquez Rocks just outside Agua Dulce by mid morning. The rock formation, formed by the San Andreas fault, has been used in countless Hollywood movies and TV shows, including the original Star Trek.

We rolled into Agua Dulce about an hour later, and walked a mile down a road to Hiker Heaven. Hiker Heaven is a big property owned by the Saufley family, who have set it up with just about everything a hiker could want. They offer showers, a laundry service, mail delivery and charging outlets, to name a few things. I even managed to catch up on Game of Thrones on the Saufleys’ TV with a bunch of other hikers. Heaven!

My contacts are somewhere in here…

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