I’ll start this blog off by revealing my hiking partner. I hadn’t done so yet, because she didn’t have a trail name, and I wanted to give anonymity to anyone I hiked with on a public blog. But she finally has a name! I have hiked with Vortex since day two, when we realized we hiked about the same speed, mileage, and planned our days similarly. While solitude is sought by some, having someone to talk to during the rough parts of the trail is a mental boost, as well as comfort in having a familiar face at camp in the evening.
Leaving Big Bear City, I didn’t get back on trail until 11:00am, and I knew I need to hike fast to catch up to Vortex. Luckily the trail was pretty flat, taking me through an old fire zone, so there wasn’t much shade. About four miles in I saw two stray dogs, both pitbull mixes, and they were sizing me up. I thought I thought I’d only have to worry about bears, mountain lions, and snakes on this trail, so I was so excited to add a new threat to the list. Luckily I had two section hikers come up from the south and the dogs lost interest. I continued to hike hard into the evening, and in order to make it to my planned camp, I had to grab my headlamp. My first night hike lasted only two hours, but it went well, especially being solo. The next morning, just before the 300 mile marker, I saw my first snake. By mile 304, I saw four more. All five were rattlesnakes, and all five caused me to long jump to Olympic gold medals. I made my way to a hot spring, a perfect place to have lunch and escape the sun in the 95° heat. I met back up with Vortex, and a few others. What I didn’t expect, was that the hot spring was a clothing optional deal, and there were two dozen locals all hanging out butt naked. Seriously. Fully nude. Dicks and tits everywhere. All of us hikers were pretty much hiding in a corner or the springs. Not how we expected to “enjoy” the springs.
The trail after the hot springs dropped 2000′ in elevation and was extremely hot and exposed. I was not having a good day, my pace was down. I was hungry for lunch but there didn’t seem to be shade anywhere. A small climb up a sand dune and a oasis was revealed. Silverwood Lake is a large lake with lush vegetation in the middle of the desert. I saw a sandy spot on shore with a large oak tree so I spent most of the afternoon there, and eventually the night at the near by state park.
The following days were a great hike through desert mountains in relatively cooler temps with the exception of strong winds. I was able to push for larger mileage, hiking over 20 mile days. I stopped into Wrightwood for a quick resupply and hiked back out to Inspiration Point where I saw my first mountain goat and began a 3200′ climb to the summit Mt Baden-Powell. The switch backs up felt never ending, but the summit was well worth it. Someone planted a large flag at the summit, appropriate for Memorial Day.
A large section of the trail was closed due to some stupid endangered yellow legged frog, so we had to road walk 7 miles on the dangerous Highway 2. About a mile from reconnecting to the trail, there was a sign pointing into an old ski area for hikers. A family owns the Buckhorn Ski Lodge, a popular spot in the 1950s-1980s and provides fruit, snacks and sodas to hikers. It was a great boost to the awful road walk, and shortly after leaving, I reconnected with the PCT and hit mile 400.
I hiked to Vasquez Rocks, an area often used in film. The rock formations were caused by erosion and were inhabited by natives, and later bandits in the gold rush era. From Vasquez Rocks, I made it to Hiker Heaven in Aqua Dulce, arguably the best hiker hostel on trail. The people at Hiker Heaven have a great set up, there is a huge area for camping, a shower house, ten porta potties, a tent set up with sewing machines for gear and clothing repair, a tent with outlets and laptops, and a tent with mailing supplies. And every hour there was a shuttle to town nearby. And I finally caught up to my AT buddy TOPO. I could have spent a lot of time there except there was the one rooster that really had it out for me. The hike out out Agua Dulce was hot and steep, and I only made it 11 miles. The next few days continued to drop in elevation, and I felt like I was arriving at the Mojave floor, a final stretch of the desert. Temperatures started exceeding 110°, and water sources started becoming scarce. Two days later, I made it to Hiker Town, a small compound of Western movie props. The owner was a Hollywood producer, and props were strewn across the property. I got to hold an Emmy, felt pretty special. That night Vortex, Topo, myself, and fellow AT ’14-er DK decided to beat the heat by night hiking the Los Angeles aquaducts.