Big Bear, CA – Cajon Pass


April 17 – After a productive day of chores in Big Bear I woke up early, took a shower, and got ready to hit the trail again. The next town would be Wrightwood, 100 miles north. My pack felt like it was full of bricks when I picked it up due to all the food in carrying. I’m still worried it won’t be enough.Half of the group wanted to stay in town a little longer and get breakfast but Rebo, Rocco, Shepard, Tank Girl, Central Booking and myself got a ride to the trailhead from trail angel sage. We have plans to meet the others in three days at Deep Creek Hot Springs, a natural hot spring on the trail 40 miles ahead. Our goal for the day is a campsite at 20 miles so we set off before wasting too much time. The trail tread is rocky and climbs 1000 feet above town. Joshua Trees start popping up for the first time, framed against the backdrop of the desert that lies in between Cabazon and Big Bear. Above 7000 feet I find myself in a thick forest of redwoods which continues for the rest of the day. I break every five miles to wait for the others and attempt to satisfy my ravenous hunger. 

A certain peace comes with being back in the forest. Birds chirping, pine needles creating a soft bed for me to walk on, and constant shade all equal up to a rather enjoyable days hike. Around a corner I’m surprised with a view of Big Bear Lake and the ski resort behind it. The trail follows a flat ridge from here, giving great views of the town and lake. I stop at 15 miles and it gets cold quickly as the sun begins to set. The remaining five miles are all downhill through the biggest burn area I’ve been in so far. It’s sad to see places like this but also interesting to see how much life still remains in these areas after such disaster. By the time I get to camp it’s almost dark and I’m beat. I cook dinner and set my new tent up for the first time on trail, then call it a night early to lay down and rest my legs after my first twenty in a while.
April 18 & 19 – It was a freezing morning but I was happy to find no condensation on my new tent when I woke up, it actually stayed about 5 degrees warmer in there too which was nice overnight. I cooked oatmeal for the first time ever in trail, it was nice just to have something warm. Without much standing around I hit the trail before everyone else in hopes of building up some body heat. That certainly wasn’t a problem as the burn area continued on for miles, creating a desert like atmosphere much less enjoyable than the green tunnel I had walked through the day before. At 2.5 miles, I took a break for no reason to climb to the top of a peak. There was a great view of snow capped Mt. Baldy, a sign I’m getting close to the Angeles National Forest. I ate some snacks and charged my phone with my solar charger, one of my favorite luxuries this year. After around half an hour I headed back out and soon came to Holcomb Creek, the most water we’ve seen so far on trail. Rebo, Central Booking, and Tank Girl were there having lunch along with Cookie who I hadn’t seen since right before summiting San Jacinto. We had a good break there while waiting for everyone else and then kept going with our sights set on Deep Creek. The trail became overgrown and rugged after Holcomb, slowing down my progress quite a bit. We descended far down into the Deep Creek Canyon, much of the way exposed. It was a hot day, in the upper 80’s. As the month goes on I can feel the daytime temperatures rising, making me glad that I started early. At the Deep Creek Bridge the landscape became forested once again making a perfect campsite. We had a fire for a change since water was nearby which was a great way to end the day. The next day we make it to Deep Creek Hot Springs, a natural hot spring in the middle of the desert. The only word to describe it is oasis. We spend the day hanging out there after the 9 mile hike in. Our large bubble is reunited after we split up after Big Bear, but the amount of people takes away any sense of being in the wilderness and makes me choose to move on with Rebo. I don’t hike out until the sun is setting and for my persistence am rewarded with an incredible sunset as I climb out of the Deep Creek Canyon. The moon is full and the cool air feels great as I make my way five more miles to the Mojave Dam with Javi to meet Rebo. The Dam is a vast flat area difficult to navigate in the dark, so we call it a day and cowboy camp right in the sand. It’s warm and the stars shine bright as I cook my dinner at 9 pm. Crickets chirp and the sound of a stream plays in the background. This is wilderness.  
April 20 & 21 – I start my day early hiking out with the sunrise. My first obstacle is a river ford, a strange thing to encounter in the desert but then again water has been so abundant for the last 50 or so miles. I then head down into a small tree covered canyon which is freezing because cold air settles into canyons during the night and early morning. I hustle my way past it and soon make it into the first rays of sunlight, looking back at the impressive Mojave Dam that was hidden in the night before. I find Rebo camped out on the side of the trail and we make plans to head to Silverwood Lake where there is a possibility of a camp store with food. Five miles in we have breakfast number two at the grass valley creek, a beautifully flowing water source in the middle of an otherwise hot and exposed section. We were soon joined by three other thru hikers whom neither of us had met before. After some small talk they asked a question that gets asked a lot out here, how many miles a day we are doing. I didn’t have to say anything, Rebo answered perfectly for me.

“These guys have been doing it the right way. A lot of people try to push as hard as they can in the desert and hate it. In order to enjoy it you have to go slow. We summited San Jacinto and stayed on top, enjoyed the beautiful deep creek bridge and took a day at the hot springs. This beauty can’t be rushed.”

He was absolutely right. The time I’ve spent out here has been nothing but enjoyable. We’ve had so much fun in only three weeks, it’s hard to imagine there’s so much more time to do the exact same thing.

We pushed on to Silverwood Lake thinking we only had five more miles until the store. The terrain again turned into a desert landscape, descending down to a flat stretch through an industrial area. I stopped for some shade under a lone tree that looked very out of place in such a desolate environment. We thought we should be less than a mile from snacks but after taking a second look at the maps we realized it was still over seven away. My spirits were so crushed that the rest of the hike was pretty unbearable despite the absolutely breathtaking Silverwood Lake we were walking around, completely encircled by the mountains. The lake looked so refreshing but it was blazing hot on the rim that the trail followed. My feet felt like patties, I wanted to stop so bad but the hopes of real food compelled me to go forward. When I finally arrived at the Cleghorn Picnic Area I was beat, but for some reason still walked the mile and a half to the camp store where we got the makings for s’mores and some cold sodas. It was worth it. We headed back to the picnic area, made smores and conjured up plans to head out at 4 am to make it to Cajon Pass by noon where I’m now typing this up in the comfort of a McDonald’s that we’ve all been dreaming of since Big Bear. The trail will now climb back into snowy mountains through Angeles National Forest as we make our way closer to the Mojave Desert and then the High Sierra. The group is reunited and for the first time in weeks I feel full. Where will the trail take me from here?


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