CAJON PASS, California — The McDonald’s off Interstate 15 just south of Victorville is chock full of dusty, smelly hikers with big packs and huge appetites fresh in from the Pacific Crest Trail a quarter-mile away. After two Big Macs and two large fries, I’m settling in with a coffee and two apple pies for some quality time with the Wi-Fi connection to compile this dispatch about my first 3 1/2 weeks on the PCT.

Since starting north from the Mexican border on the misty morning of April 3, I’ve covered 342 miles of rugged and beautiful landscapes, from the cacti, manzanita, juniper scrub and oak thickets of the desert zones to the forested high country of Ponderosa, Lodgepole and Pinyon pines, Douglas fir and Sequoia around the Laguna Mountains, Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio. The major swaths of public lands the trail has traversed include the Cleveland, San Bernardino and Angeles national forests and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, all spectacular.

Abundant winter rains have resulted in a “super bloom” of wildflowers this spring in the Southern California desert. Pictured are golden poppies. Carey Kish

Unusually heavy amounts of rainfall this winter lifted California out of drought for the first time in many years, so there are a lot more water sources than normal – a true blessing in the desert – and on other dry stretches, there have often been precious water caches maintained by trail angels. At Scissors Crossing, under the Highway 74 overpass near Julian, for example, volunteers stock 100 gallons, one of two critical supplies that help hikers through a naturally bone dry 30-mile section.

The abundant winter rains have also created a super bloom of wildflowers this spring, so almost every day offers a kaleidoscope of trailside color, from poppies and bluebonnets to fireweed and paintbrush and dozens more I can’t identify but enjoy nonetheless.

The most challenging part of the journey thus far was the 57-mile stint over 10,800-foot San Jacinto Peak and its subsidiary summits. A 20-mile stretch of deep snow required the use of micro-spikes to negotiate the precipitous terrain, including the notorious Fuller Ridge. One mile per hour was the best I could manage.

A close second in difficulty was the two-day grunt up the Mission Creek drainage in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Floodwaters last Feb. 14 destroyed much of the trail, necessitating a good deal of route finding, creek crossings and bushwhacking through impossibly thick tangles of brush.

A good crowd of thru-hikers of all ages is out here from across the country and around the globe, with trail names like Hiker Box Bandit, Breakfast Beer, Chicken Champ, Money Maker, Forget-Me-Not, Daddy Long Legs, Mango, Nothing But Time, Out Loud and many other fun ones.

My hiking companion, a friend from Alaska who I met on the Appalachian Trail in 2015, goes by Iron Lady. Over the last couple years, we kicked around the idea of hiking the PCT together, and so here we are. I’ve done more than my share of long and lonely miles over the years, so it’s good to have company on this adventure.

Paper maps and trail data sheets are in my pack, but I rarely refer to them, relying instead on the Guthook smartphone app for the PCT, a GPS-based navigation tool developed by Maine’s own Ryan Linn. Your real-time location plus water sources, campsites, road crossings, side trails, town info and more — this indispensable app has it all.

I’m also carrying a Garmin inReach MINI, a 3-ounce GPS and satellite communications unit that I was not in favor of, but my mom and wife insisted. I’m glad they did. Not only can they track my progress, I can send text message updates whenever I’m out of cell phone range, which is at least half the time. If you’d like to follow my progress as well, go to us0-share.inreach.garmin.com/beerman.

At I-10 near Cabazon, 200 miles in, my old buddy Tim from Bangor High School days grabbed us for a couple rest days at his place in Yucca Valley. While there, I bought a new Jetboil stove at the local outfitter. I’d grown tired of watching Iron Lady cook, eat and clean up before I could get a pot of water boiling with my MSR Pocket Rocket.

The 2-pound rock Carey unknowingly carried in his pack for a full day, compliments of an old Maine “friend.” Carey Kish

Before bringing us back to the trail, Tim was kind enough to stash a 2-pound rock in my pack, which I didn’t discover until after a full day’s walk ahead. Payback is, well, you know.

In a month’s time, I expect to be on the doorstep of the snowy Sierra Nevada, and that’s when I’ll file my next trip report. Until then, happy hiking.

 

Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1977 and 2015, and completed the 1,100-mile Florida Trail in 2017. Follow Carey’s PCT adventures on Facebook @CareyKish.

 

 

 

 

 


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