Day: Saturday, 28th May 2016
Miles: 353.9 – 377.9
Remote Camp 353.9 – Mt.Baden Powell Summit 377.9
We (hopefully) all experience moments in time that remain static and unbudgeable from memory. Sometimes the reasons may be for the worst, hopefully mostly they are for the better. That’s just how life is. There is so many interesting people and places that this thru-hike has allowed me to come into contact with, that opportunities for positive, even overwhelming memories have been generously provided to me of late. The huge effect that an act of simple generosity from a stranger can have on you, whilst in a time of vulnerability is quite incredible. A simple view in a unique context. How meaningful an inane interaction with someone can be, simply by the timing or the message. There is a number of towns on the Pacific Crest Trail that are particularly noted for their wonderful generosity, and the character of their reception to the Thru-hiking community, and thankfully today it was my turn to experience Wrightwood, California’s whimsical love for the trail people. The local mountains around Wrightwood, matching the people in their generosity.
After my spider-serenade at nightfall last night, I was not in any rush to get moving, however my internal clock seemed to jam on New England time when I left Boston, now two weeks ago, and it never quite realized I was now on the left-side. Coincidentally however that does mean that my 5:30am start each day is perfectly timed for a beautiful sunrise as I much on my daily oatmeal serving with raisins, 2 multi-vitamin gummies, a fish-oil tablet, and a packet of Carnation breakfast smoothie. Not all together in one you’ll be happy to hear.
I had a short-goal this morning. There was reports of a freshly populated water cache 5 miles ahead so the initial target was an easy one. With no spiders to be seen, I hit the trail with a new-found vigour. This was largely due to my irritation at not completing a few extra miles last night, rather than an new pixie dust (or spiders) in my shoes this morning. On that line, last night was the first night I slept with my shoes in the tent. My strict shoes outside the door policy relaxed just a little given “environmental factors”.
The cache was fully filled, in line with expectations and beta from the frenetic PCT rumor-mill. The guilt-factor of using a cache is high. These little stores of water at critical points help to lighten your load significantly, if successfully factored into plans and always populated (thus reducing water your carry). The risk of the cache being entirely emptied by the frenzied thru-hiker herd ahead, means that it is difficult to gauge the risk profile of the cache. Obviously centering your strategy around a variable with no ability to mitigate through 2600 miles of hiking is bound to go horribly wrong at some point. Cautious usage with an abundance of fault-tolerance is my strategy (extra water always, and understanding of emergency exits if a cache fails).
This was the second well-stocked cache in a relatively short distance, and the second with a written invite strongly inviting you to Wrightwood. These guys are nothing if persistent, I remarked! The trail into Wrightwood could take two forms, the Acorn trail, fast and an impressively short 3mile drop of nearly 4K feet, or the loftily named Inspiration Point, a popular hitch spot 6 miles-on which inferred no drop in elevation (which more importantly means you do not need to hike back up nearly 4000ft!). I opted for Inspiration Point, although by this time the views back to Cajon, north to Victorville and into the Mojave Desert as well as south over another magnificent cloud inversion, were really quite inspiring to start with.
The trail weaves its way back into an elevation supporting alpine trees and grassy meadows. It really did feel quite nice to rise back above the hot and high canyons of the last few days. Lots of forest critters went about their business as I weaved through one of the ski-resorts (Mountain High) that gives Wrightwood a raison d’etre in the winter months.
Closing in on Inspiration Point, a number of Trail Runners passed me by, all training for a 100mile adventure race coming up in a few weeks that is centered on Wrightwood. One of them asked me to take his picture in return for a granola bar. Whilst immediately take-aback at the idea that I was a trick pony (I’ll take your picture for free you know!), when I saw that it was a Blueberry LaraBar I decided I’d jump the hoop. He got his picture, I got my 0.25% of a daily vegetable portion. Victory all around. Immediately after my calorie-jump, I got to the trail head at Inspiration Point, where I met Patrick, Tie-Dye and a few other guys just hitting the trail. We had been bouncing back and forth since the hot-springs a few days back and I spoke with them a few times. They were hanging out with Brian, part of the incredible trail angel duo of Brian and Amy from Wrightwood. Almost as soon as I arrived at the carpark, I was offered some pork, slaw, cornbread and a coke! Brian was hanging out there all day, speaking to hikers, hanging out in the sun and generally being a great host. I have never been so happy to have someone sit me down and feed me in a public rest-area before! Wrightwood is already showing its colors.
With a full complement of food and beverage consumed, it was time to hitch to Wrightwood. Once again I lucked out however, as Amy just returned from town and it was time to pack up their gear from the lay by, so I helped out for a few minutes and hopped into their Tacoma pickup for the quick ride down to town. After a quick tour, pointing out the place to get a hotdog for free (thru-hiker special), the hardware store that keeps all the resupply boxes for free, their best hostelry if I was feeling like an imbibement, as well as the supermarket, I hopped out to grab my supply box and figure out next steps. Amy was insistent that I should have her number in case I needed anything, and away I went. I would have loved to hangout for longer with them, two really interesting and generous people, but yet again my aggressive schedule is mandating my approach and there’s little time to spare.
I received my resupply box really easily and retired to their packing area around the back, this town really knows what it’s doing. The Mountain Hardware store itself was really something. One of those “everything from a needle to an anchor” type places. It reminded me of our local hardware store in Ballylanders back in Ireland, repleat with the same eclectic characters and friendly laid-back vibe. My resupply box was a beast. It was far larger than needed so I gave away some of the food to other hikers repacking at the same time. I think that my 4 day resupply boxes are too large and need some replanning. It’s just too much food given the current weights I’m working with, so an adjustment to what foods go into a 4 day box will be needed very soon. A case in point, Knort pasta sides are about 500plus calories and weigh 4oz. My healthier chia/brown rice packs are under 400calories and weight 9oz. This adds up fast when you scale the numbers. My 4 day boxes need more probars and pasta sides!
After getting everything into the bag, I went to the supermarket for some fresh fruit and yogurt (as well as sun lotion). I’m consuming as much sun lotion as water at this point, but it avoids me melting into a puddle of goo on the trail! Everywhere I went in Wrightwood, everyone was incredible friendly cooperation offering rides, food, even in the supermarket all of the assistants seemed to single out the thru-hikers and give really personal attention on cost and what was where. This town was really shining out for me. I bumped into another trail buddy 5oclock who was stocking up, and offloaded some Annie’s and instant mashed potato. I think that finally my bag was feeling manageable so I went to the local bar “The Yodeler” for pizza and a beer. It was 4pm and I had decided I wanted to get a few miles in before sundown so I had just enough time. I sat at the bar and talked to another hiker from Tacoma, WA about the trail, progress, work, life, blisters and the potential storm tomorrow. Life was good, the beer from a brewery in LA was great and company was pleasant. I was sad to have to pack up and wander back to the road. I had barely scratched the surface on Wrightwood.
I wandered back to the main road and just as I was about to put up my finger, a familiar face rolled up in his Virginia plates minivan – it was Devilfish! The trail angel who drove us to the bus on Monday and whom I bumped into at McDonalds at Cajon Pass. Always busy, Devilfish was on his way to Birdspring Pass with a full compliment of water but agreed to bounce off his route to drop me back to Inspiration Point. Wrightwood was looking after me! I hit the trail around 6pm with a open book on how far more I would hike. My feet were feeling good (some new bouncy insoles from the good oul Dr.Scholl saw to my arch pain) and I had enough water to get to Little Jimmy Spring tomorrow – bases are loaded! The next challenge was Mt.Baden Powell summit, a few miles and a few thousand feet elevation further on, my target was to do a little of the climb and camp.
After another beautiful sunset, I started the climb of Baden Powell, it was far more vertical than I had anticipated which immediately led to some hesitation around how feasible it actually was to find a good tent spot. Regardless, I continued apace and quite enjoyed hiking up, up, up into the cool tree-draped slopes. The views north to Victorville were obscured and most of my concentration for much of the climb was on where to make-camp. The pizza and beer, providers of brief joy earlier were now somewhat anchoring my feet into the ground but I soldiered on further. The best tent site I eventually came to was two miles from the summit. The spot was fine, flat, good coverage, sheltered. A nagging idea had been chipping away at my plan for a little while however. The night was still and warm. There was no wind and no precipitation tonight, and I was only 2 miles form the summit. What if I camped on the summit I pondered. I had seen pictures online, of hikers camping up there, and resolved that if it was not appropriate when I got to the summit, it was just a half mile to the next tent site (on my map). Mileage-Mania, meet Summit-Fever: it appears that both of you, with your intoxicating mix of bravado and foolishness have taken over my brain! The plan was adjusted. The new plan was decided. To the summit! I was now completing some silly mileage along with some silly elevation gain today. But if I have learned nothing else on the PCT, is there’s nothing to’it but to do’it sometimes.
I arrived at the summit around 10:30PM and immediately saw a barren rocky bump of a summit. The only shelter was some scrawny trees in the northwest quadrant, just enough to cowboy camp, so I laid out my groundsheet, unfurled my sleeping bag and Thermarest and set to it like the cowboys. Staring at an incredible starring sky, with not a breath of wind and only the occasional scamper of a busy mouse to disturb an infinite peace to every horizon. Today was a good day. Life was generous.