PCT Part 4, Into the Clouds (mile 266 – 369)

Day (mile 266 – 266)

Another zero day in Big Bear, this was probably my laziest day yet but I enjoyed the rest. I did some standard town chores, including resupplying my food. This is a typical supply of food for 5 days – 2500 calories, 80 grams of protein per day. Not the healthiest stuff but high in calories and energy.

After sorting out our food, Salsa and I went to go hang out with another group of hikers in their room. We flipped on the TV and of course the first thing that pops up is a live car chase on the news. Apparently they don’t have live car chases on the news in Europe so the Europeans in the room were equal parts fascinated and appalled that we considered this entertainment in America. We watched the whole thing. Other than that not much else happened. We met back up with Rocksie and Perrie for pizza since they just got into town. It was fun to catch up and exchange stories but we planned on moving out tomorrow and they would stay a couple more days.

Day 22 (mile 266 – 286)

Okay, back on the trail again. We got a ride from the hotel staff to the trailhead which was super convenient. The hike started off in a burn area which I thought was nicely represented by this sign.

Today we were hiking with Sunny and Ent, two other hikers who started at Scout and Frodo’s the same day as me. Sunny is from the Netherlands and Ent is from Switzerland. We’d seen each other on and off for a while so we just decided to hike together for a while. After a few miles we crested a ridge and had a beautiful view of Big Bear lake and the adjacent mountains. You can sort of see the ski slopes that had just closed a few weeks prior.

We did 20 miles for the day and made it just past the town to a equestrian campsite. I figured it would be fun to pitch my tent in the horse corral. Yes I checked for horse poop first. No mountain lions would get me tonight.

Day 23 (mile 286 – 306)

We’d heard there were some natural hot springs coming up so we wanted to get close to hit them the next morning when they wouldn’t be too crowded. Apparently there would be a lot of characters at these hot springs which also happened to be clothing optional. As much as an adventure as this was, we didn’t want to hang around to see this display of humanity. For pretty much the whole day we followed a creek which was flowing really well. This meant having to do some log crossings.

We soon passed the 300 mile marker which had an actual, official sign.

Eventually we started to climb up and over the creek a little ways and got some great views looking down into it from above.

Under a bridge we found a nice sandy beach to take a siesta – unfortunately the water was still super cold despite the air temperature being close to 80. Regardless it was nice to relax in shade and sand.

We followed the creek a few more miles to our campsite for the night which was one of the most beautiful so far. There were waterfalls and crystal clear pools and tons of shade under the cottonwood and other trees.

I ate dinner on one of the rocks in the middle of the stream, excuse the weird look on my face. It was a perfect place to have dinner and soak my sore feet.

Day 24 (mile 306 – 326)

We got to the hot springs next morning around 9:00 and there were quite a few people there already. Mostly PCT hikers but we had to go to one of the smaller side pools since the main one was full. All told, the hotsprings were pretty cool, er, warm I guess. The area was beautiful but the only downside was the amount of trash I saw there sadly.

Since we spent over an hour at the springs we had to pick up the pace a little for the day. The hiking was hot but beautiful since were walking high above the creek in the canyon below. Unfortunately there was a surprising amount of graffiti in the area which was unfortunate to see.

We descended back down to the creek and actually had to walk upstream a bit since the trail seemed to disappear into it.

We followed this creek for just a little bit then began to climb back up out back into the desert hills. And once again we were in the heat and sun. The wind was also incredibly strong but it actually helped keep us cool. Far off in the distance we could see the mountains we’d be hiking in soon.

All the while we wished we were hiking along that river below.

We kept going up and down through the desert hills until we finally crested over them and saw Lake Silverwood, where we’d be staying for the night.

We’d heard it would rain so I did my best to put my tent up under one of the pavilion things. It kind of worked. Tomorrow we would get to the famed McDonald’s on the trail that everyone was talking about so I slept well. You get excited for stupid things out here.

Day 25 (mile 326 – 342)

Sure enough it rained quite a bit that night but my tent held up and kept me dry. The sunrise was nice if obscured by the clouds a bit.

The clouds hung around for most of the morning so we had a pretty rough few hours of intermittent rain and constant fog and wind. Thankfully we hiked through them after a while. The trail at this point looked more like the Appalachian trail than the PCT because everything was so green.

We kept hiking and eventually the lake and lush scenery gave way again to desert and some truly spectacular views. The whole time we were walking right along these sheer cliff faces which dropped down hundreds of feet.

We got to the McDonalds around noon just in time for the lunch rush of hungry PCT hikers. In fact there was a whole section basically just for hikers. Every time a “normal” person walked in they would make some kind of a face because of the smell probably. Or just the sight of a bunch of dirty hikers. Regardless, the stop was definitely worth it just to see hikers loading up on obscene amounts of fast food.

After eating a full days worth of calories in McDonalds we decided it just wouldn’t be possible to hike any more miles without serious problems. So 4 of us split a hotel at the Best Western across the highway. And let me tell you, crossing that highway was the scariest part of this trip so far. Forget snow and bears and lightning strikes. We weren’t used to so many cars and all the associated dangers of being a pedestrian on a highway.

Getting to the hotel was a big relief since we got a chance to relax and dry everything out from the night before. And digest all the McDonalds of course. Tomorrow we’d be doing a huge climb back up into the mountains and we needed our strength.

Day 26 (mile 342 – 364)

We woke up to cold and fog. As we headed down the highway back to the trail we joked how glad we were to not be sitting in rush our traffic. Then we realized the people in traffic were probably joking about how glad they were to be in their nice warm cars, out of the disgusting weather, and going to a job with a paycheck. Perspective is everything.

We had to go under a few infamous tunnels to get past the highway and some railroad tracks. They were cool if a little creepy.

And then we started climbing. Up and up through the fog we went until we realized we were now just hiking in really low clouds. It was neat at first but then became demoralizing when you couldn’t see 30 feet in front of you. Made for some cool pictures though.

We figured after hiking high enough we’d eventually emerge from the clouds. After all we had to climb several thousand feet today.

Eventually, spoiler alert, we did break through the clouds and it was a sight to behold as we emerged on top. It felt like we had really earned this day.

Also here’s an example of a trail register you can sign and date so you know who is ahead and behind you. Since phones rarely work out here, pen and paper is the way to go. Plus you can leave fun notes for your friends.

We finally reached our campsite after 22 miles of climbing and we were completely exhausted. Did I mention there were no water sources for these 22 miles so we had to carry around 5 liters? Just about 11 pounds of water. But our campsite was great because it had toilets, trash, and tables. This was pure luxury out here. And there were some awesome views.

Day 27 (mile 364 – 369)

We made it so far the day before that we were only 5 miles from the town of Wrightwood. This was apparently one of the coolest towns on the trail and I understood this the second I was picked up from the highway for a ride into town. The lady who picked us up was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She’d lived in the town with her husband for over 20 years and had been giving rides to town and hosting PCT hikers in her own home for a while. Any question we had she would answer with a smile. When I expressed concern about the really nasty weather coming over the next 4 days, she talked through how we might deal with it. The weather was really looking pretty bad and we were worried about what to do. Stay in town for 4 days and wait it out? Or just hike out right away and try to beat it?

Anyways 5 of us decided to split a room just for one night and we would hike out early the next morning. That way we still had all day today to do our chores and see the town while still having one more nice day to summit the main mountain and get to lower elevations.

We had a massive breakfast as was becoming tradition upon getting into town. Then we went to the local hardware store which was sort of the hangout spot for PCT hikers. The store owners encouraged us to hang out in the back and use their facilities – chargers, pack scales, tape, hiker boxes, restrooms, etc. I could see why this town was well liked.

Our room was a really nice 5 bedroom cabin and it comfortable fit all of us. They even did our laundry. While we were waiting for our laundry to be done we went shopping for food resupply in our only clean clothes – our rain clothes. We were definitely a sight to behold but the people of the town were used to it. All of us had given up trying to maintain appearances at this point.

Our short time in Wrightwood was truly fantastic. We loved pretty much everything about the town, especially the people who were just so friendly and welcoming. It was going to be hard to leave this all behind and head into the cold and rain. But that’s what you have to do out here sometimes.

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