Day: Wednesday, May 25th 2016
Miles: 286.7 – 314.6
Remote Camp 286.7 – Remote Camp 314.6
The Pacific Crest Trail is a funny old beast. Like any journey, the best route isn’t always a straight-line. I alluded to how the PCT zig-zags through switchbacks and leisurely meanders in a general northward track, however one of the most distinct bends in the trail is when the PCT turns westbound at Big Bear. Ostensibly this is to line up for a short crossing of the Mojave Desert, and of course to follow the effective “crest” of mountains roughly linking Mexico to Canada. Between yesterday and today, I turned that corner, and the small differences have been noticeable. I now walk westward, with the daytime sun illuminating hillsides and accentuating shadows along the ridges. The small river valleys seem to run with me, rather than at an angle, and the evening involves walking headlong into magnificent Pacific sunsets. I like this, it feels like I’m making progress, indeed on the map I have now (almost) made a dent, nearly two weeks after starting.
I woke from my mountain slumber to a particularly chirpy bird this morning at 5:30am. This little fellow was particularly happy about about something and wanted to tell the entire world. Sadly I didn’t speak his language, and for all I know, it was a foul-mouthed rant about a political opponent in this little avian-districts primary election. I shouldn’t go confusing real life with nature I guess. I should just enjoy this birdsong for what it is. A melodious happy tune juxtaposed against an area of pure and simple devastation.
As I ventured out of my tent, I wondered for how long further the burn area could continue to blight the view. It was another 5 miles before some life began to creep back into the scene, as the trail verged on the northern side of the otherwise verdant Big Bear area, the terrain became rocky and sandy, notably marked with small pockets of green where springs or creeks flowed. The trail was regaining is flow, the burn area was petering out and as with everything, the scene was evolving to something new.
I crossed a number of babbling creeks as the trail lost significant altitude through the morning. Eventually I came to the first crossing of Deep Creek. This little creek became my focus for the entire day and what a joyous association it was. It crossed my path, it provided water, cool areas of rest and much more as my day progressed.
The PCT clutches to the edges of the Deep Creek gorge in a most beautiful fashion. You feel like a tourist in an enormous geological zoo (of sorts), looking down into a perfectly recreated canyon of unspoiled pools, polished granite rocks denoting the high water line and sandy beaches which beckon you down. All the time the trail is hanging off precipices and tantalizes the onlooker with a view that’s just beyond the accessibility of touch. I became imersed in the progression of the river and very engaged in watching it grow gradually and at times gather in pools, before another spurt of life signified its further drop in elevation. The golden sandy hillsides and green turquoise waters were really quite the treat and such a distance from alpine forests and burn areas a few miles back.
I eventually arrived at one of the most unusual areas yet. The Deep Creek hot springs. This was unusual not just because it offered the ability to get close to deep creek, but th ability to hop into bubbling hot springs that feed the creek naturally (after being directed into some small pools in order to allow for human enjoyment of the spoils!). The area was a hive of activity, something so different to my mornings solo l-adventure along the creek that I instantly felt a little out of place. The clothing optional hike-in and hike-out nature of the springs gave it an almost secret and illicit feeling. Personally I wasn’t going to give up the chance to wash the dust off my clothes so I went for the “with-clothing” option, but many were enjoying the benefits of the great outdoors (if you know what I mean) and the scene was convivial and very laid-back.
After soaking for an hour, I ventured further, still invested and intrigued by Deep Creek, which by now had a significant flow and a provided a distinct green and verdant valley floor to the view from the trail. Again we rose high above the creek before crossing once again to the north side, where the trail entered the evening shadows and became cool and silent.
The dark side of the valley, during evening times is always a chilly place to be, so I wrapped up in my new-to-me REI down-vest and continued walking into the evening. Deep Creek was all grown up by now. It almost felt like I had witnessed the birth, growth, maturity of a river throughout the day, something that was immensely satisfying. The evening sun glinted on the far valley as some signs of our proximity to LA started to show, in the form of graffiti and vandalism along the valley.
By 7pm, and with the sun low in the sky, the next milestone in today’s walk became visible in the distance.
The entire region is prone to flash floods, not lease because of the steep canyons and thin soil base, but also because the Mojave plateau a little north has very few places to allow runoff to consolidate. One of the major sights on this part of the trail is an enormous static flood control dam that props up one of the valleys merging with Deep Creek, the empty area behind the dam was staggering in its immensity. The entire abandoned and static nature of the facility being more consistent with a Mad Max movie than anything I have seen to date. Scrambler bike tracks and donuts in the sand highlighted that this is more than anything else, a good place to test out your mettle in the automotive stakes, but the pervading threatening nature of the area was only assisted with signs of no-loitering, no-camping, a sheriffs helicopter that buzzed twice overhead, and a general anti-social air. I moved on quickly.
I forded Deep Creek (unbeknownst to me) for the last time shortly afterwards. The cool water was really pleasant, and I spoke with an Aussie hiker for a few minutes as he rolled out some muscles on a gym roller. I liked the idea of trying to stretch out my IT band a little, but despite an offer from the pleasant gent, I resolved to keep trucking for another few miles.
Not even a mile further on, whilst enjoying the cool tall river-grass clad banks of Deep Creek, a mind-numbing tragedy struck my demeanor. Deep Creek, the beautiful babbling brook that I had watched mature into a fully fledged river, supporting animal life, a trout habitat and spontaneous areas of vivid greenery throughout: the river I have followed for nearly 20miles, died before my very eyes.
How could this happen you ask, the answer is an inglorious one. The monster that is Los Angeles and its insatiable appetite for water. Before my eyes, Deep Creek came to an abrupt stop. A dam redirecting its flow into a dark and mysterious intake pipe, leaving the green and leafy grassy plain in its midst.
I wouldn’t say that I’m the sentimental type. But the sight of Deep Creek ending where it did, certainly dampened my spirits. I walked for another few miles feeling despondent, before stopping up for the night near a large no trespassing sign. It had been a wonderous day of of change, amazing views, a little sadness, a few blunt truths. Aspects of the trail and its environment took on a more ominous demeanor today. The innocence of the last week and a half, being tempered by the realities of life. Lots to think about and reflect on. Turning a corner, on the map, maybe in some other ways too.