Cajon Pass – Acton, CA

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April 21 – After loitering in Mcdonalds for the afternoon a few of us set out to put in five more miles. I started hiking just as day began to turn into night. After going through two underpasses the trail followed a steep ridge line as it began its 21 mile 6000 foot ascent into the Angeles National Forest. To top it off it’s a dry stretch so I was lugging four liters of water up the mountain. The terrain was awesome though, giant rock formations with big craters surrounded me. The sunset started just as I made it to the top of the ridge and I decided it was a perfect time to eat the McDouble I had packed out. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better a full moon rose in between two distant peaks, it seemed to be much closer than normal. I took my time for the rest of the hike, enjoying the night air and ambiance. I caught up to Kodachrome and Kyle for the last half mile and as we walked up to the campsite where we were meeting Shepard, Red Riding Hood, and GWT we were welcomed by a stranger with beer and pizza, the first trail magic of its kind for me on this trip. Not a much better way to end the day, escaping the McDonalds vortex was more than worth it.
April 22 – We all wake up with wet sleeping bags due to condensation, next time I’m in town I’ve really got to look up some tips on how to avoid it. After an early morning and late night the day before we took our time packing up, in no rush to tackle the rest of our climb up to Guffy Spring, the next water source still 19 miles away. Once on the trail, my athletic side came out and I decided to push myself on the ascent. I can feel my calves and thighs getting stronger, and it’s not often the pct has a climb as strenuous as the AT so it felt good when I kept a good pace up for 8 miles without stopping. Still in the high desert, the day was hot and once I found a shady spot a break was much needed. I ate two packs of tuna as I grimaced at the remains of my food bag; a snickers bar, one pack of tuna, a spoonful of peanut butter, one dehydrated Kung Pao Chicken meal, and a spicy buffalo sauce from McDonalds. I plan to really step up my trail food game in wrightwood, a days hike away.

After my break I finally make it back into the trees above 6000 feet but am disappointed when I turn the corner and see another burn area. I get my first sight of Poodle Dog Bush, a plant in the poison ivy family that grows in burn areas. Someone had gone through and tried to kill it all off, but a few patches of it still hung on to life, their oily and crystallized leaves bearing a striking resemblance to a marijuana plant. Due to the burnt forest the trail was exposed and at my elevation the winds began to pick up dramatically, sometimes almost blowing me over. I stop for some cover in a thicket of shrubs, lessening my food supply by one snickers bar. With only five more miles to go, I’m in no rush. It was only 1:43 so I decide to sit out the heat of the day before finishing off the miles. I reflect upon the trip so far, so much has happened it’s all still hard to comprehend. I feel overwhelmed when trying to put these experiences in words. I’m 350 miles in, halfway through the desert. Beyond the snowy mountains in front of me lies Los Angeles, the place where this whole adventure really began. For the first time I feel I’ve made some sort of progress, the forested landscape I’ve been in as of late differs greatly from the bare chaparral filled hills of the border area. I fall asleep trail side for nearly an hour, and am woken by the blustering winds, stronger now than before. I pack up and head on, hoping to get into a less exposed area soon but the trail just continues to follow the ridge all the way up to Guffy Springs at 8000 feet. Here the forest is thick but the camping area is literally on the peak of the mountain. Shepard already has his tent set up when I arrive but I decide it best to move on to the next Campspot 3 miles away and 1000 feet lower. 

With the group now completely split up, I walk alone in golden hour, wondering if we will ever all be reunited again. I feel the energy of this hike changing, a new phase beginning. I continue on as the clouds shoot up the side of the mountain, the sun creating a fiery explosion in the sky as it sets. I am free. When I pass the Blue Ridge Campground I walk right past, pushing on to the road that will bring me to Wrightwood. I get lucky with a hitch from what looked to be the last couple heading up to where the trail crosses the road for the night. In town, I find “Short Shorts” eating pizza at the mile high pizzeria and join him, taking half of a bbq chicken pizza to go. It’s dark now, so I find myself a stealth spot in the woods back behind a neighborhood, lay out my sleeping bag, and munch away on the rest of my pizza. I don’t know where I’m going or what’s going to happen next, but that’s kinda the beauty of it isn’t it?
April 23 – I woke up to cold temperatures even at the lower elevation of time, making me glad that I had pushed on off the ridge the night before. Around 8:30 I went back down into town to get my chores done: resupply, charge my phone, shower, and eat a big breakfast. I found a bag full of expensive protein bars, pop tarts, and fig newtons in the hiker box, a major score lessening what I needed to buy at the grocery store. In search of something more filling, I bought pita rolls, a big hunk of mozzarella cheese, salami, and pepperoni for my lunches. After resupply, I headed to a church camp called Camp Wrightwood to get a shower. It was a long uphill walk to get to it but it was a beautiful little camp and the free shower was hot and had great pressure. There was even an outlet to charge up while I was there. Some inmates doing community service hooked me up with a Gatorade on my way out, and then I hit up the Evergreen Cafe for a huge breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage, and home fries. About that time Shepard got to town and we found a skatepark randomly where we hung out for a while before heading back to the trail. 

Back on trail we were ahead of everyone else by at least five miles. It was almost sad heading out knowing most of my friends hadn’t even made it to Wrightwood yet, but this path is mine to walk and I’ve gotta walk it no matter how many people are by my side. Shepard and I sat at the trailhead and talked about our experiences so far before hiking on five miles through a thick pine forest at 6500 feet. We stopped short for the day because in five more miles the trail will be at nearly 10,000 feet on top of Mt. Baden Powell. We can see a lot of snow up there from where we are camped, so it’s probably best to go up there tomorrow, plus it’s a lot warmer down here. Still cold though.. I’ve decided my favorite part of the day is getting in my new down sleeping bag, it’s so puffy and cozy. The sun is setting through the trees as I write this, just another night on the pct..
April 24 – We were heading steeply up from the very beginning of the hike, our destination being the 9500 foot summit of Mt. Baden Powell, a mountain named after the founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Within the first half mile I stopped to strip down as the ascent quickly warmed me up. At Lamel Spring I met two day hikers who I ended up hiking most of the way up with. We had been warned that there was a lot of snow but I didn’t see any signs of it, not until we reached around 8000 feet that is. The trail then became lost and we were left bushwhacking up the icy slope, not the safest way to get up a mountain. We made it though, and as we neared the top the trail followed a knifes edge ridge before shooting up to the peak. The view was worth it as it always is, in one direction was our next challenge, the Mojave desert, and in the other was Mt. Baldy and the blue ridge from where we had come. In the distance downtown LA was visible as well as the Pacific Ocean, both covered in smog blocking the view. After a while Sheldon and Hunter, two thru hikers I had met the day before, made it up to the top and then Shepard bringing in the rear. Hanging out on the top of mountains is great and all but it gets cold pretty fast so we pack up and keep moving. The snow is sketchier as we descend on the ridge of Baden Powell. Exposed snowfields made for some extremely dangerous hiking. Typically on on the pct to one side of you is a steep slope going up and on the other is a steep slope going down; imagine that with snow covering it. There’s no flat trail to follow in these conditions, only angled ice that could give way at any step. Now imagine that with no trees to catch you if you fall, but instead the Mojave desert 9000 feet below. That was Mt. Baden Powell.

We continued on cautiously on the ridge for miles until we dropped in elevation and the snow disappeared, hopefully for good until the Sierras. At Little Jimmy Springs we caught up with Sheldon and Hunter again and had lunch in the middle of the thick pine forest. It was two in the afternoon and we had still only done ten miles, we blame it on the snow and altitude. Dark clouds had begun to roll in and I felt a few raindrops but within minutes the sun broke through and the sky was blue again, gotta love the greater LA areas weather.

From the springs we had one more climb up and over Mt. Williamson. I pushed myself to my physical limits up it, ascending 2500 feet in what felt like minutes. At the top I was in the clouds but the trail immediately descended back down to Eagles Roost. From here an endangered species closure forces us to hitch 3 miles down the road to pick up the trail again, but we don’t complain. It’s been a long day with a lot of ascent and descent, so back on the trail we find the first flat spot and call it home for the night. Luckily there happened to even be a stream here, great background noise to fall asleep to. Not that I need it.. My eyes are getting heavier with every word I type. Hopefully tomorrow should be an easier day!
April 25 – I was first awoken at 2 in the morning by my raindrops falling from the sky, a strange phenomena in Southern California. Of course me and Shepard were both cowboy camping, so we ran frantically set our tents up only to have the rain stop as soon as we were both inside. The next thing I can remember is a bright ray of sun shining through my rainfly, a much nicer way to wake up. It had been a cold night, and the morning was no different so I quickly packed up and hit the trail. A mile down at the water source I ran into Sheldon and Hunter, the two people who’s names I was blanking on before. It was still cold in the shade of the trees so I filled up and got going again without much conversation. My surroundings today were mainly pine trees, beautiful but they do a great job at blocking the heat of the sun. Eventually I found a warm spot at the 400 mile marker, a fitting place to take a break. The trail was much easier than the previous day had been, there wasn’t much elevation and due to the close proximity to LA there were a lot of jeep roads and power lines that we walked on. 

At mile 405 I took my lunch break, after which the trail became challenging in a different kind of way. I entered a burn area and had my first real taste of poodle dog bush, a plant in the poison ivy family except the effects are much worse. It grew in clusters along the trail, making me dance my way through it to avoid touching it. The plant itself bears a striking resemblance to marijuana, both in scent and appearance. It’s known to sprout up in burn area to help erosion, this burn area went on for miles.

After break number three at fifteen miles dark clouds began to set in like they had yesterday. I thought nothing of it, LA weather won’t do me wrong right? Wrong. It’s April 25 and I kid you not it started snowing. Then it started hailing. Then the Lightning came in. Luckily for me it started right as I reached the top of a 7000 foot mountain, so it got pretty intense at points. After around 45 minutes I turned a corner and could see blue off in the distance, it took another 30 for that blue to reach me but once it did the precipitation died down and the sun was bright again, but it was still super cold. I pushed on an extra five miles in order to reach a lower elevation. Below 5000 feet I was back in the high desert feeling extremely victorious. It’s an empowering feeling knowing I can survive such harsh conditions. I stopped with two miles left to go and made dinner on the side of the mountain while I watched the sun set. Aside from proud I was also beat, and set my tent up in the first flat area I could find at the Mill Creek Ranger Station, Shepard nowhere to be found. Now I’m about to pass out and do it all over again tomorrow.
April 26 – I woke up early at the ranger station but hung around for an hour or so talking to jaque who I hadn’t seen in a week or two. He tells me he saw Shepard go by late last night, and sure enough I find him about a mile down the trail. We are in the infamous station fire burn area where the poodle dog bush is supposed to be abundant. We decide to take an alternate around it, walking 7 miles on the deserted Mt. Gleason Road. It starts out as an easy and gradual walk as the road winds through the high desert landscape that we’ve finally returned to. We passed by a ranger station completely burnt to a crisp and then a memorial for those who died putting out the station fire. What an honorable job it is to be a wildlife firefighter, the effects of these disasters are truly devastating. I hope the beautiful forests I’ve been walking through since Idyllwild will remain untouched for years to come.

After the memorial the road began to climb up to the top of Mt. Gleason. We hadn’t anticipated this obstacle on our detour and the road was certainly not graded for humans to walk on so it was a pain but at the top we got a 360 degree view that no one on the trail would get. We had lunch and rested for a while before heading back down the road, now only one mile away from messenger flats where we would pick up the pct again. Poodle dog bush was still everywhere but hopefully we missed the worst of it. At the North Fork Ranger Station five miles past messenger flats we stop for dinner and are joined by Sheldon, Hunter, and Jaque. It’s already been an eighteen mile day but Shepard and I push on eight more to the town of Acton, where we will be picked up tomorrow morning to spend a few days in LA. From the Ranger Station the trail drops 2000 feet, the desert becoming more and more apparent as the elevation gets lower. The sun sets as I make my way along the chaparral covered hills leading to the road. There will be no more forested sections for a while from here, we are heading into the truer desert section for the next 300 miles up to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the High Sierra. I’m looking forward to baking in the sun and walking alongside cacti again for a while. The mountains have been fun but extremely unpredictable, but then the same thing could be said about this whole trail I suppose. Into the desert we go..

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