Friday, May 1, 2015

Big Bear City to Silverwood Lake

I came off the trail last year at Big Bear City with a severe shin splint.  So now that I had the hole filled in around Idyllwild, it felt like I was breaking new ground heading north on Monday morning carrying 4 days of food and a gallon of water; ugh.  The day dawned bright and clear, although a bit cool at around 7000 foot.

The trail has made a westward swing and will be heading toward Los Angles for the next week or so.  I slowly climb toward the 8000 foot level with occasional views of a dry lake bed to the south and what looks like barren wastelands to the north.  It is pleasant walking and fun to see Joshua Trees again.  The only time I have seen them on the trail so far is within a few miles either side of the Big Bear exit.

The ground is still somewhat rocky/sandy here, but there is a good tree cover, mostly Ponderosa Pines and what I assume is Incense Cedar. They are both neat trees with a lot of character, obviously having gone through a lot of struggle in their lives.  The forest floor also had periodic pockets of color, mostly small low growing flowers that would carpet small areas.  I suspect the rain of a couple of days ago was beneficial to the visual display.

I was carrying a full load, marching mostly uphill, and started late, so I had decided to stop a bit early in a spot the trail guide identified as a campsite with a picnic table.  It was a nice spot in a high saddle and actually had two picnic tables.  One was in pieces and the other, while still standing was clearly not usable and would also soon be on the ground.  But there were several potential spots available, so I picked one and, because it was still early and I needed the practice, I set up my tent, taking the time to make sure I was getting it pitched and staked tautly and high enough; and I think I did well.

I had a few people come through camp later in the evening, a couple of whom stopped to visit and the others racing past to get in a few more miles. All in all the day was pleasant and enjoyable, although it was getting cold by dusk and actually dropped below freezing during the night.

Tuesday morning I was up and hiking before 6:30 and enjoyed the early morning as the trail wound through the hills with periodic views of Big Bear Lake and some cool trees.  But by mid morning the trail come out into a burned area that lasted several miles and then transitioned into more of a high desert environment with few trees and a lot of empty ground.  Plus the temperature was starting to climb as the trail descended most of the day.  I stopped early in the afternoon at a stream crossing to eat lunch, collect water and just soak my feet.  It was a very refreshing respite from the long hot and dry trail.

Late in the afternoon I came upon a hiker who was guarding the path.  There was a rattlesnake just off the path and he wanted to make sure his girlfriend, who was behind me, didn't get bit.  I jumped off trail to get around it, and then found a long stick and poked at it a little until it moved further off the trail.  Apparently not so far off that the girl friend didn't hear it rattling when she eventually came by.

Deep Creek, while not very big, is one of the largest creeks I have seen in this section of California.  The trail follows this creek for 13-15 miles, usually high up on one of its canyon walls, only a few times actually providing access to the creek.  The first of those is where the trail initially encounters the creek.  There is a high bridge that crosses the creek, along with side trails that actually lead down to the water.  I spent a little time at the water, eating dinner and getting more water, and then decided to move on to avoid the party atmosphere that seemed to be in the making.  Within a mile a little side trail ran out onto a shoulder that jutted out toward the creek, with a small flat spot just big enough for my tent; home for the night.

Wednesday morning I was up and gone by shortly after 6 and spent the whole morning traveling down the Deep Creek Canyon.  The trail moves gently up and down along the dry canyon walls, with a green ribbon running along the bottom where the water is.  Occasionally there is a pool in the creek below, looking like an oasis in the midst of the desert.

There are to tiny creeks that flow into Deep Creek, providing some refreshing shade and water.  In between these two creeks is a hot springs that is a popular destination.  I had opted not to stop at the hot springs, and the sight of the naked guys sunning by the creek only reinforced that decision, as did the two guys who came upcreek toward me lugging a big metal ice chest between them with a look of delight on their faces.  Gonna be a party there for sure.

The last few miles of the trail through the canyon demonstrated on ongoing battle between taggers, who felt the need to spray paint every flat surface, and folks who would attempt to clean in up by painting the rocks with gray or brown.  Maybe it's just because I am old, but I don't see the point in spray painting rocks out in the wilderness.

The canyon ends at the Mojave dam, a big rock wall spanning a couple of gaps in a ridge.  But it is a dam with no water behind it.  Both Deep Creek and the Mojave River, which seems smaller than the creek, flow under the dam.  What should be the lake bed has trees, some structures and roads.  Apparently the dam is really about flood control rather than the creation of a lake or hydro-power.

After climbing out of the lake bed I flopped down under a shady tree where the trail crossed a road; it was time for lunch and a break from the heat. There was a strange bird that I dislodged from the shade of the tree when I flopped down.  Turns out it was actually two birds and I watched them mill around the area and finally come back to my tree, which I suspect was really their tree.  Turns out they were Chukars, a game bird I had never seen before.  Fun to watch though.

After the break it was back on the trail again for another 5 miles before stopping for the night.  The trail climbed a bit and then traversed along the slopes above the Mojave flood plain.  I was needing water before camp, and most of the potential sources were dry.  My last hope was a creek that was supposed to be flowing a bit, but when I arrived it ended in a pool in the middle of an old road I was walking down.  And laying at the edge of the pool, where I was getting ready to walk, was a 4 ft rattlesnake all stretched out with his head in the water.  Wasn't sure he was even alive until I splashed a bit of water on him.  And he definitely did not like that.  The rattle went into high gear and he quickly slithered away and into the brush.  I ended up pulling a gallon of water out of the pond, filtering the floaties out with my handkerchief and then heading on to find a camp.  Shortly after I saw my first horny toad since I was a kid growing up in San Diego.

Camp was very similar to the previous night, out on a shoulder of the bluff I was walking.  Just as I was getting settled down for the night a couple of gals came in and asked if they could cowboy camp with me.  The spot was small, but so were they, so they nestled in on either side of my tent.  The wind was blowing early but it dies down, and we had the best sunset I have seen yet this year.

Thursday morning I was again out shortly after 6, but trailed the two ladies by half an hour.  I only had 10 miles to go before pickup so was in no hurry.  The trail continued the traverse for a while until dropping down to a road to pass under the dam that created Silverwood Lake.  Shortly past the dam the trail climbs up and over a ridge to the lake itself.  Silverwood is a pretty lake, although the trail never gets down to the water.  After traveling above the lake for several miles, the trail drops down to near one of the campgrounds on the lake before heading on to I-15.  And there I stopped and waited for an hour or so for Sue to get back from visiting her brother.

Her brother was going to do a long day hike with me that weekend, from Silverwood to I-15, so we planned on zeroing there Friday, day hiking Saturday and then back on the trail Sunday.  Sue had reserved a spot in the campground for three nights, at $45 a night (apparently campgrounds in CA that are near water are pricey).  But when we got to our reserved spot we found it kind of in a hole with a picnic table in the middle of the spot and two tent pads, neither of which were big enough for her tent, and neither of them level; and the lake was some distance away.  On top of that I was hot and drained and couldn't see setting there on my off day, sweltering in my own juices.  So we went to the park office to complain (they knew about our site) where they reimbursed most of our fee and off we went to the Best Western just up the road where their PCT hiker discount was $62 dollars a night.  Much better.

Tomorrow Don and I will day hike from Silverwood Lake back to the hotel, which is just off the trail, and then I will continue toward LA on Sunday for a few days before heading north again.

These small flowers grow in small clusters and in a variety of pastel colors.b

The barren wilderness to the north of Big Bear

Joshua Trees are so cool.  A form of yucca, they look like a creation of Dr Seuss.

The dry lake bed of Lake Baldwin near Big Bear.

The trail crossing an old rock slide.

One of the stately old trees that stand guard over the trail.

More of the little flowers that add a touch of color to what is often times a drab trail.

Another old tree with character.  What conditions it must have faced to end up like this.  And yet it continues to grow and shade the trail.

This big old Ponderosa Pine obviously spends a lot of time in the wind.  The tree leans and all the branches point to the direction of the wind.  This particular tree sheltered my camp on the first night out from Big Bear.

The waxing moon peeking through a Ponderosa pine.

A peak to the south at Big Bear Lake.

Looking across a canyon to the beginning of a burned area.  While this section was only a few miles long, the shade was gone for the next several days.

This version of Lupine has a relatively tiny leaf and a very compact form.  This is another of  the small flowers that grow out of what looks like dry and barren sand. 

Trooping along through a dry and thirsty land.

Sometimes the Manzanita is just about all that is growing.

Another small cluster of flowers growing out of the sand.

The high bridge over Deep Creek.

Setup in a little isolated spot overlooking Deep Creek.

Some of the chaparral plants are covered with tiny flowers when they bloom. 

Guess how far we are from the Mexican border.

This plant is growing out of a solid rock wall.

Indian Paint Brush is seen occasionally along the trail.

A bridge spanning a gully in the south wall of the Deep Creek canyon.

Looking down the Deep Creek canyon.  It goes on and on, seemingly forever.

A little oasis at the bottom of the Deep Creek canyon.

How many frogs can you see on this rock?  Hint, there are three.

The painted bridge over Deep Creek.  Lets walk the other side of the canyon for a while.

The Mojave dam at the end of Deep Creek

The Chukar that was impatiently waiting for me to vacate the shade under its tree.

An irate rattlesnake moving away from the only watering hole in the area.

You have to look closely, but here's my first horny toad in over 50 years.

Prettiest sunset so far.  Course I usually am asleep by this time.

This small cluster of small flowers grows up at the top of a long stalk.

Another chaparral plant that is colorful when blooming, big yellow blossoms.

Looks like some variety of Scotch Broom.

One arm of Silverwood Lake

Another interesting flower.  A slender stock shoots up from the ground with a flower head that produces small blue flowers, although only a few at a time.  From the flower head shoots up another stock with a flower head.  And sometimes this is repeated a third and even fourth time.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Paradise Valley Cafe to I-10

After a long drive from western Washington, and a quick lunch at the Paradise Valley Cafe (highly recommended), Sue dropped me off at the trailhead Wednesday shortly after noon.  Last year when I had hiked north from Campo, I had skipped this section of trail, hoping that the closure would be removed by this year when I returned to finish southern California.  But it had not been, and some reports suggest it may be a long time before the burned section is reopened.

The first few miles of the trail meander up, down and around and is pretty easy walking.  It is mostly open with a lot of shrubs that are not too familiar to me, along with yucca, cacti and manzanita.  After a few miles the trail began to climb a bit and I made camp about a mile and a half from the closure in a small saddle.  No sooner than getting my tent up, the clouds came rolling in, and through the saddle.  Visibility dropped from miles to feet, and the air became very damp.  Nothing like living with your head in the clouds.  While eating dinner a family of four, with an 11 year old boy and 9 year old girl passed though camp, looking to make another mile or two.  I met them again the next day and discovered that they were the Ravens and were thru-hiking.  After going to bed I heard what sounded like rain, but later decided it was just the cloud condensing on the trees and dripping on me.  When I got up during the night to answer the call of nature, the clouds were gone and the stars were out bright.

Thursday morning I was up and on the trail early, bouncing back and forth to either side of the ridge.  After about a mile and a half I came to the closure and found the Ravens camped there.  I dropped down off the ridge on the Cedar Spring trail to the Morris Ranch Road and then followed it down to highway 74.  The Morris Ranch road is paved but with very little traffic.  It seems mostly to service a very large Girl Scout camp at its end and running for several miles along its length.  I followed 74 along for a short while and then took a side trail over to the power line road that follows it.  This road was more like a trail than a road in many places, and while a bit longer because it meanders a bit, it was preferable to the highway.  The power line road quit just short of the Lake Hemet market, then back on the road to the Hurkey Creek campground when I was able to follow a trail to the Keen Summit and a meet with my own personal trail angel who packed me up and brought me back to her campsite in Idyllwild. Kind of a long and boring day with so much time walking roads.

I had planned on starting back at Keen Summit on Friday and following the May Valley road and then the South Ridge trail back to the PCT.  But the cold I had been fighting and the expected cold and rain in the high country convinced me to take a different approach.  Sue dropped me off at the end of the May Valley road and I followed it into town, through town and then up the Ernie Maxwell trail to the start of the Devils Slide trail.  It was a nice 8 mile slackpack, mostly in the rain.  When Sue met me, she walked the trail back to town while I drove the car down.  Dinner in town, followed by packing for the next day and then off to bed.

Saturday morning Sue dropped me off at the Devils Slide trail head.  This is about a 2.5 mile trail with a couple thousand foot elevation gain.  The day started off clear and bright but a bit cold.  Seldom do I hike for long with a coat, but that day proved to be the exception.  The coat, gloves and beanie never came off.  Once I got back onto the PCT it started to snow, but only briefly.  The area around Mt San Jacinto is beautiful and I enjoyed the scenery, at least for a while.  I walked off and on through the day with Kat, an Aussie transplant to London who was doing a thru.  The trail climbs to just over 9000 feet, drops 500 and then back up over 9000 before slowly descending.

Late morning it started to mist and by noon it was raining.  Compounding that, the wind had started to come up.  By early afternoon I noticed what looked initially like shards of glass on the trail, but found it was actually ice.  The rain had started to freeze and was coating the needles on the trees until the ice got to heavy and broke off.

As a side note, last year I bought a ZPacks Heximid tent with a poncho groundcloth.  I had never attempted to put the poncho on until that day.  The wind was blowing, it was raining, I was cold, and found myself standing in the middle of the trail with my pack on and attempting to put this poncho on.  I'm sure it would have made an interesting YouTube video, but I found it very frustrating.  I finally managed to get it on by taking my pack off, stuffing the back corners of the poncho into the water bottle pockets on the pack and draping the poncho over the pack.  Then I sat down in front of the pack, got my arms through the straps and pulled the poncho over my head.  The poncho has a pair of zippers on each side to zip up the sides to keep it from blowing away.  I finally managed to get them zipped and then discovered that the water bottle pockets were nearly inaccessible.  But at least I now had a little more protection from the rain.  I can't imagine going through all that again though.

So I am hiking along in freezing rain, the wind is starting to gust with gale force, my gloves are soaked and hands are numb and mostly inoperable and I am starting to get cold.  I see what would make neat pictures of pine branches with long needles and cones coated in ice, but I cannot operate the camera.  I am starting to focus now on finding a flat place that is protected enough from the wind that I can get a tent setup.  And it is not looking good.  The trees are coated in ice and the trail is starting to accumulate ice falling from the trees.  Eventually I drop low enough that the ice quits, but the rain is getting worse and the wind will occasionally blow me off the trail.

Finally, around 5, I found a large fairly flat spot in a somewhat protected spot and managed to get my tent setup.  The ground was made of coarse sand without much holding power, so I piled rocks on top of my stakes, secured everything as best I could, and crawled into the tent.  Just then Kat came along, in worse condition than I had been, lacking any real rain protection.  She quickly setup alongside, followed by a third hiker.  I huddled in my sleeping bag for quite a while before I finally stopped shaking and got warm, then sat up and had some dinner and arranged stuff a bit more inside and laid back down for the night.  The rain became pretty intense for a while, but quit around 8:30, although the wind continued to whip most of the night.  By 11, when I got up for the first time, the stars were out.

Another side note.  My ZPacks Heximid is actually a shaped tarp with an attached bug screen for walls and floor.  This works great in mild weather.  But it presents some real challenges during heavy weather events.  It needs to be pitched kind of high to get enough airflow to prevent condensation, but that also allows the wind to drive rain trough the bug screen.  I pitched it a bit low, so ended up with condensation, some of which dripped on me all night, and some of which froze.  The ground cloth is also marginally bigger than my bag, presenting some challenges in finding dry places to keep stuff.  All my electronics and other stuff that need to be protected ended up in the bag with me.  A lightweight bivy would have made this experience more tolerable, as, I am sure, having more experience with the tent.  And in general, it points out the challenges that can face those who are trying to travel as lightly as possible.  Your gear can easily be pushed beyond its limits, especially if you do not have the experience to overcome those challenges, something I gained the hard way.

Sunday morning dawned clear, cold and still a bit breezy.  I was up early and broke camp, wearing everything I had except for a pair of shorts and my down puffy, and it was all damp.  Shortly after leaving, the trail begins a serious descent of the north face of San Jacinto.  The sun was out bright and shortly I had stripped down to just my pants and a pair of shirts.  After two hours I found a big rock in the sun and plopped down for breakfast,  The view was amazing.  I could see the interstate down below and my pickup point for the end of the day.  And I could see San Gorgonio mountain and the surrounding ridges, tracing my steps for the first couple of days after leaving I-10 last year.  Stripped off the second shirt, put on some sunscreen, although not enough, and continued on.

The trip down was long, but uneventful.  From my breakfast rock, the trail switchbacks down in long sweeping traverses, never seeming to get any closer to the end.  I could see cars on the interstate at 8:30.  By noon they were no closer, although the desert floor was slowly coming closer.  It was around 2 before I came out onto the desert floor and another hour and a half to walk, first a paved road, and then several miles of sand, before getting to the pickup point.  I found it interesting that the last portion of the sand was laced with muddy streaks.  Apparently last nights rains has created some rivers that 20 hours later were just muck.

The missing section of the trail has been completed and now it's on to Big Bear to pickup where last years shin splint derailed the hike.
All decked out and ready to hike

Not near as many cactus in bloom as I remembered from last year, but this one was pretty.

Looking out over the rolling hillside just north of the Paradise Cafe.

My favorite desert plant.  There are apparently a few different varieties based on the color and shape of the blossoms.

The trail climbs higher as it gets nearer to the San Jacinto's.

First night out, setup under some small trees in a saddle between two valleys.

Not long after I was setup the clouds started rolling in and the next few hours were pretty damp. By the middle of the night though the stars were out bright.

This yucca hasn't actually blossomed yet and is still growing. One of my trekking poles is leaning on the flower stalk to get an indication of size.

Tahquitz Peak, looming over the trail head of Devil's Slide.  The trail climbs a couple thousand feet to the left of this 8800 ft peak. 

Suicide Rock as seen from near the top of Devil's Slide.  Wonder how it got that name?

Tahquitz Peak from the PCT.

The first of many snow patches along the trail in the San Jacinto's.  While there were periodic patches of snow, I only had to walk through 1 tiny spot of snow on the trail

This rock vaguely resembles a pig snout.  And some enterprising hiker has left pine cones in many of the holes; like an offering to some deity.

After the storm, looking down on San Gorgonio Pass, a part of the San Andreas Rift Zone.  I-10 is nestled down in this pass along with bunches of wind mills.  The trail descends forever before crossing several miles of desert, then under I-10 and finally climbing into the hills beyond the pass. 

Looking back at a shoulder of Mt San Jacinto with it's newly fallen snow.  Sure glad to get off this mountain.

This cactus looks so fuzzy, but I suspect someone fooled into stroking it would quickly regret their actions.