Thursday, April 16, 2015

Pacific Crest Trail Section A, Days 2-3 In the Pines, in the Pines and a Desperation Camp

I awoke in Lake Morena Campground with the unwelcome sensation of an ice-covered tent in my face. None of the hikers we had helped yesterday were in evidence. I coukd only hope they had reached the water cache and were evaluating their choices. There wasnt much movement in camp: I imagined many of the hikers lay stunned, this, their first backpacking trip.

Flash and I were in agreement: pack up quickly and hike on to a sunny spot for breakfast and a "yard sale" of our wet gear.We noted that the other hikers were still sleeping or glumly shivering as they ate breakfast. We had learned in the Washington rainforest: waiting for the sun to hit your camp was an exercise in futility. What you did instead was put in some miles and walk to the sun, instead of waiting for it to come to you. The others would learn. Or they wouldn't.

There's few things I like better than hiking in the morning. Five miles in the morning are a completely different creature than in late afternoon. We wound around the "lake", never seeing any signs of water, discovering a perfect set of boulders for breakfast. As we sat, we were serenaded by loud music. Music from loudspeakers at seven in the morning?  Oh. It was Easter.

The world heated up as we climbed through brush and rocks, passing a small campground and into a canyon. This section of the PCT is not remote at all, so whenever the trail ducked away from houses, roads, or powerlines, I took a deep breath. This was why I was here. We passed high above Kitchen Creek, a slice of water gleaming far below. We carried two liters per five miles, a ratio that we had discovered worked for us, so we didn't need to go there. Other hikers were planning their days around water, but we knew our abilities and limitations. Again, experience.

That's when it happened. A young and fit day hiker bounded toward us, wearing a day pack and shoes and...nothing else. Question: what do you say in greeting to someone hiking completely naked? In the end I took the cowardly route: "How's it going?" "Happy Easter!" he answered, continuing on his merry way. We giggled, thinking he would soon pass Wild Card, another hiker of our vintage, and the clueless day hikers headed his way.

We both agreed that if we had to see a naked hiker, this was the one to see. It could have been much, much worse.

A rare stream trickled through some burnt trees. Our goal was a meadow site about a mile ahead, but as I was preparing to head down there, a thru-hiker named Todd approached looking wind-blown. "Pretty windy down there," he said, and I noticed a strong wind was tossing the trees around. For some reason wind grates at me more than anything else when I am camping. I'll take almost any other kind of weather over wind.

Flash and I looked at each other. It was about four more miles to Mount Laguna. We were already passing hikers who had started the day before us. This would mean a twenty three mile day, but we knew we could do it. We headed up, into the pines.

As we gained elevation, the temperature began to drop drastically. The wind tore at my clothes. Here at almost 7,000 feet, it was not yet summer. We gained the ridge and saw the promised land glinting below--a campground! Eagerly we bolted down to it.

But wait. Something was wrong. Nobody else was here. The water spigots were turned off, the bathrooms locked. It began to dawn on me: the campground was not yet open. We would be the only ones in a wind-swept, desolate place. What if a ranger drove by and made us leave? Unlikely, I decided. The Forest Service budget does not allow for much compliance checking. Anyway, we weren't going to use any of the facilities. We found out later that other hikers had hitched down the road to a private campground with showers and toilets but..Nah. too much work. All we would do is wrestle a floorless tent into submission, shiver over our camp stove, and retreat inside the tent for a long, long night in the pines, where we would hopefully not shiver the whole night through.....

We awoke in the closed campground, still unticketed by passing rangers. Our destination: the store, for resupply packages, coffee (Flash) and perhaps some warmer clothes from the outfitters'. Grabbing our boxes, we retreated to the only semi-warm place to sort our food: the bathrooms behind the closed ranger station. "We've sunk to a new low," I reported to Flash, munching on a Fig Newton. "Want one?'

"I have a rule, never eat in a bathroom," she replied, but minutes later she was crunching on something.  "I have sunk to a new low," she reported.

Discouraged hikertrash loitered outside the post office, which wouldn't open until noon. Luckily we had sent our packages to the store, which opened at 8. People huddled in their puffys, assuring us they would see us later (we never saw them again)."Gonna snow tonight!" some carpenters yelled as we hiked back towards the trail.

Snow did not materialize, but the wind did. On some of the exposed ridges, it pummeled us with a vengeance. I envisioned us being blown off, far to the desert floor. We would round a point in the lee, get warm and peel off layers, only to dive for them again as we turned our faces back to the wind. It was survival hiking at its finest.

Ten miles in we stopped to get water at the Pioneer Mail site, trees whipping violently in the wind. In other circumstances this would be an ideal place, an old mail route shaded by live oaks. Today it howled, too windy to stand for long. We hunkered down on the trail, accompanied by thru-hikers Daniel and Amanda, both of whom toted huge sticks as trekking poles. I had to wonder how far those pieces of wood would make it towards Canada. They were fast, though, and disappeared from sight as we climbed the old mail route into the teeth of the wind. Someone had hauled in a water cache here, which was puzzling, since we filtered water of out a tank. Can't  hikers learn how to filter water, I thought? Wasn't this teaching people to rely on caches of plastic water jugs?

After a few miles we passed through a delightful and boulder-strewn canyon called Oriflamme, which allegedly produces balls of light as sand particles strike boulders. I looked longingly at the small campsites dotted throughout the rocks, but there was no way to camp here, not today. Would this wind ever stop, or was it going to be a constant? I could not imagine the way it was before wind.

Darkness was threatening as we reached the turnoff for the Sunrise Highway. Water was rumored to be there, and also outhouses. But it was a quarter mile off the trail, and right into the wind. "Let's just find a place around here," Flash said, surveying the brush-studded ridge. We crashed down through prickly bushes to a small basin. The wind still howled, but not as strongly as up above, and we managed to wedge the tent between some brush. Shivering, we dove inside.

"Flash and Monkey Bars?" a male voice rose over the wind. We had lured two hikers into our windy basin, both in the same predicament as we were.

"What'cha eating?" Kevin yelled. "Polenta," we yelled back. Silence.

"What's that?"

"A kind of grain!"


 Grimly we all hunkered down for the night. I found out later that the wind gusts topped 50 mph.

"Hike Section A, they said," I grumbled. "It'll be brutally hot, they said." But even as the trekking pole that held the tent fell onto us, I knew we could survive this. It couldn't get worse....or could it?
I'm only allowing this hideous picture of me on the blog to demonstrate the awesomeness that was Desperation Camp. I'm wearing three layers. Behind me is the tent of Kevin, who sanely stayed in bed.


  1. Whew.....something from all weather and all temps. But we know you and Flash are prepared and, somehow, even having fun. Looking back, anyway.

  2. It's kind of looking back fun...but I'm glad we did it.

  3. I laughed about the naked hiker! Good thing he was fit. At least you had some eye candy. :) Who would've thought you'd be freezing cold in So Cal?

    1. Yes, the sight of that hiker is something that cannot be unseen! Also, yes on the cold, we almost did not pack rain pants and so glad we did. Flash bought gloves at the outfitters!

  4. Also had a run in with a naked person in the wilderness Mary, but he was a naked swimmer. Might as well experience the wilderness to its fullest... Right?
    Love the story, can't wait to read more, by the way the picture is not hideous, you just look a little cold. :)

    1. I have been guilty of swimming without clothes in mountain lakes, but only after careful looking around! I had to admire this guy's cheerful not giving a darn about what others might think. He seemed happy and that's all that counts!

    2. No tan lines!

  5. You got that right. It's all about living in the moment and enjoying the freedom that the wilderness can give you. I know that's when my smile is at it's best!!

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  7. Hope I didn't cause too much of a disturbance for you guys.


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