Day 1 (mile 0 – 20)
Obligatory monument picture. Behind me you can see a wall which is the Mexican-American border.
If you’re wondering, I didn’t start alone either. We had a pretty large group coming from Scout and Frodo’s.
The morning of day 1 started perfectly cool and cloudy. After we took our pictures at the monument and signed the register, the large squad of hikers moved out towards the Canada.
Everyone soon found their pace and mile 1 arrived in no time.
Right from the get go the trail was beautiful and full of life, despite technically being the desert.
I had originally only planned on going 15 miles the first day but I soon found a great group of hiking companions and we decided to push to mile 20 in order to get a meal and a proper campsite. Unfortunately on the 2000 foot climb up to the lake campground, we were hit by an unexpected rain storm. Just minutes before it was partly cloudy and 70 degrees, and now it was much colder and the rain was coming down in torrents.
Thankfully I soon made it to the campground and the rain cleared. I set up my tent alongside the dozens of hikers already here.
Tired and hungry, a few of us went to the malt shop down the road and got some warm food and beer.
With full stomachs we all gathered around the campsite and talked about how the first few days were going. At around 9 o’clock – hiker midnight – most of us decided to turn in for the night. I crawled into my tent, immensely satisfied with how day 1 had gone, despite the rain and long miles. This was going to be an adventure for sure
Day 2 (mile 20 – 32)
All of us in the campground woke up surprised. The forecast had called for lows around 40 degrees at night, yet upon waking we discovered that everything was frozen. My tent, clothes left out to dry, and even my quilt were all in various degrees of frozenness.
Despite being a cold night, the day soon warmed up quickly and it was actually quite hot after just a few hours. We used the heat and sun to our advantage to dry out our soaking wet gear.
Our hiking group was now 4 strong and we pressed on – our goal was to reach a campground at mile 32. We decided that 20 miles on day 1 was too much and for the next week or so we’d keep our mileage lower.
The hike to our campground was exposed save for a few beautiful sections with tree cover and lush grass and flowers. The effects of the heavy rain in southern California was especially evident in this section.
We finally finished the climb and descent to our campground which was everything we’d hoped for and more. There was plenty of shade under large oak trees, a beautiful clear creek, and most importantly – a table. It was here that I got my trailname. After hiking uphill all day in the heat I wanted nothing more than to just sit, rest, and eat. So when I saw the table I exclaimed to my group, “I love tables!” And everyone cracked up laughing. So it was set then and there – my name for this trail would be Tables.
After soaking our feet in the cold creek we were greeted with our first instance of trail magic! Trail magic is just unexpected acts of kindness given to hikers from random strangers. In this case it was a father and his two sons who made us food – baked potatoes, chili, popcorn, and s’mores – in exchange for our stories. Kindness like this – to random, smelly hikers no less – is such a breath of fresh air in a world which can get so negative at times.
After filling our bellies with good food and beer we decided to cowboy camp. Cowboy camping just means sleeping without a tent. The night was beautiful and full of stars and we fell asleep to the sound of the creek.
Day 3 (mile 32 – 48)
Our goal for day 3 was to get to Mt. Laguna, a small community at the top of the first somewhat significant mountain on the trail. The climb up to Mt. Laguna was beautiful as the desert gave way to pine forests and the air got cooler. It smelled like Christmas in April.
Very soon we reached Mt. Laguna which is basically just a general store, some cabins, a restaurant, and a campground.
As hungry hikers do, we went to the restaurant and ordered burgers and beer. If you can’t read it, the restaurant sign below says “Pack Parking”. This would become a common trend in towns as businesses would rather not have us hikers bring our giant, smelly packs inside.
The food was excellent and we picked up some food from the general store to help get us to the next town in 30 miles.
On the walk to our campsite we were greeted with some of our first truly spectacular views of the desert below.
Our campground was great and since the weather looked to be clear we decided to cowboy camp again for the night. Before bed, we all used the coin operated showers as 50 miles of grime had begun to accumulate. That’s a dirt line, not a tan.
Day 4 (mile 48 – 63)
Our goal for day for was to get within striking distance of the first “sizable” town on trail – Julian, CA pop. 1502. The hike out of our campsite was beautiful but incredibly windy and exposed.
In just about an hour of hiking we hit our first little milestone, 50 miles.
As we hiked, the views only got better and better. We could see the entire desert spread out before us and in the distance we could just begin to see some of the snow capped peaks we’d be passing over in a couple weeks. You can see them if you zoom in on the first picture below.
Unfortunately the wind just got worse and worse as the day went on and we were quickly getting beat down by it. We decided to take lunch as one of the only water sources for many miles – a small tank just off the highway.
We took shelter from the wind behind the main water tank and had a quick lunch. Despite looking disgusting, the water (once filtered, of course) was clear and delicious. We stocked up with several liters of water each as we would be dry camping tonight and there would be no water until town.
The hike to our campsite was a steep downhill descent which we all felt in our knees. Thankfully the site was somewhat protected from the wind so setting up camp was simple.
To top off a great day of hiking, we were invited over by some fellow hikers to have chocolate fondue. Out here that just means random bits of chocolate melted in a pot over a camp stove. Everyone brought different items to dip – tortillas, cliff bars, and for me, my last bagel.
It was here that one of our group (the Austrailian) got his trailname. Cookiemonster. He made cookies for all of us by mixing his oatmeal with the chocolate. They were actually quite good.
Day 5 (mile 63 – 77)
The night turned out to be very windy and unfortunately the wind blew sand into all of our tents which was not a pleasant experience to wake up to.
We hiked out super early in the same wind and were greeted with some awesome cloud formations.
Thankfully none of these clouds brought with them any rain and we were able to make excellent time. Our goal was to get to Julian for lunch because we had heard rumor of free pie for PCT hikers at Mom’s Pies.
Despite some tough hiking we made it to the highway to Julian at around noon. That made 15 miles before noon which just might be a personal best for me. We passed through some beautifult flat desert on the way to the highway.
Despite being our first time hitch hiking we got a hitch within 15 minutes of waiting with our thumbs out. He was a former PCT hiker and withing no time we were in Julian. The change was dramatic. From the hot desert floor we climbed into the cold, foggy mountain town. Our first order of business was getting food so we walked in the frigid air to get some free pie and lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. The pie was excellent. The Mexican food was so-so.
After that we went to a few of the small general stores around town to stock back up on food and get out of the cold while we waiting for our 3:00 check in at the Julian Lodge.
We were able to check in early which was great since the weather was just so nasty.
At the hotel we all took our showers and then decided to do laundry the only way we could – filling up the tub with hot water and shampoo and stirring everything around.
It worked okay.
We dried things out all over the room, but clothes for 4 people take up a lot of space. We did our best.
To wrap things up for the night we bought some beers and pizza and just relaxed/played some games knowing we had a hard day ahead of us.