Backpacking · Hiking · PCT

PCT Days 20-24: Big Bear Lake to Cajon Pass

Where: Pacific Crest Trail – Mile 266.1 to Mile 341.9
When: May 22 – May 26, 2017
Who: Marie and me
Distance: 75.8 Miles

Day 20: Mile 266.1 to Mile 275.0 (8.9 miles)

Fresh starts! For a stretch of ten days or so, Marie and I had been out of commission owing to her arch problems, which had continued to worsen over the course of our journey. Being in no rush, we decided to take some time off the trial to go back home and convalesce. Fortunately, her conditioned was ruled only muscle injury. And while that meant that we hadn’t done any serious harm, it also meant that there would be no quick fix to the pain. Knowing this, we held a stiff upper lip and ventured back to the trail at the start of the next week.

Civilian life had made us soft. We started the day with lunch at Mountain Munchies, a small dinner in Big Bear that afforded us enough food to stuff our face and then some. Bloated and sleepy, we donned our packs for the first time in what felt like an eternity. I felt almost exactly as I did on our first fateful day on the trail.

It only took a mile or so for us to be huffing and wheezing, and we took several breaks on what was supposed to be a short, nine mile day. We mourned the loss of the acquaintances that we had made along the trail, which now seemed eerily vacant. Luckily, our campsite was plenty crowded. We chatted a little and nibbled from our heavy packs. Then we settled into camp, dreaming of the soft mattresses and pillows.

Day 21: Mile 275.0 to Mile 293.2 (18.2 miles)

For the first time, the days seemed to blend together. The first half of the day afforded a great view of Big Bear Lake before it disappeared behind the desert hills. It’s amazing to see how just beyond Big Bear, a town I had previously recognized only for its snow mountains, existed a vast desert, just as brutal and hot as the ones we had passed earlier on the trail.

We were beginning to get our trail legs back, which unfortunately also meant that we were getting our trail aches and pains back. A southbound trail angel brightened our spirits when he gave us chips and candy. We also sat with a large gang of hikers at Caribou Creek, which was a nice change from the seemingly deserted trail.

We ended the day along the sandy banks of Holcomb Creek, a surprisingly large river that helped to keep the temperature down and our bottles full.

Day 22: Mile 293.2 to Mile 310.0 (16.8 miles)

If our days had themes, this day’s would have been water and lots of it. The day started freezing but quickly warmed to the usual desert heat. Another southbound trail angel, our second of this section, gifted us with an apple fritter the size of Marie’s head. We found cans of next on the side of the trail and enjoyed both while wading in Deep Creek.

The trail shot upwards for a good amount of ridge-walking as we baking in the sun. I was reminded of our early days on the road to Julian as the trees melted to desert shrubs. We were rewarded for our perseverance at a crossing of Grass Valley Creek, a large swimming pond, complete with waterfall and running stream.

Towards the end of the day, we came across our prize goal: hot springs! A crowded beach area led us to cobbled pools of steaming hot water. Ignoring the still hot weather, shed down to our underwater for an impromptu bath in the lime-green waters.

Feeling refreshed, we completed the last leg of our journey to a large bridge overlooking a rather intimidating chasm. The harsh winds forced us to sleep outside the tent for the first time, an experiment that we’re unlikely to repeat.

Day 23: Mile 310.0 to Mile 328.1 (18.1 miles)

An early start allowed us to make good progress before the sun could start to heat up the valley. We crossed a stream and climbed further towards the sun, which fortunately had cooled off from the previous day. However, we had another element to contend with.

The exposed hills gave way to whipping head winds that battered us around for the next ten miles or so. Every corner of every hilltop afford another gale, which threatened to knock us off balance.

We took our midday rest against the backside of a heavily graffiti-ed, which groan and shook against each blast of wind. With our hands holding our hats, we struggled over a hills before being treated to a view of Silverwood Lake, our largest body of water to date on the trail, an almost staggering expanse after so many days in the arid desert. We crawled along its edges for some time before coming across Cleghorn Picnic Area, where we celebrated our efforts with running sinks, shaded picnic benches and glorious, glorious bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper. We slept easily among such comforts.

Day 24: Mile 328.1 to Mile 341.9 (13.8 miles)

We must have snoozed the alarm clock three times this morning, hoping to never leave the comforts of Cleghorn Picnic Area. But with dreams of a hotel ahead, we blasted off the trail. Elevation was all over the place that day as we climbed up and down over sprawling mountains. The wind from earlier had not relented a bit as we again faced squalls of icy wind, which repeated threatened to knock us off our feet.

We rested little, and by just past noon, we had reached Cajon Pass. There we feasted on McDonald’s and drank fountain drinks until we were sick. Previously having planned to spend a night in Wrightwood on the following day, we instead opted to stay at a nearby Best Western, hoping that this plan would help us avoid the crowds of Memorial Day weekend. We braved the traffic of Interstate 15 to reach a convenience store, where I loaded up on slurpees and ice cream.

That night we bathed our sticky bodies, rechecked the maps for tomorrow and fell asleep to the sounds of Harry Potter on the television.

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2 thoughts on “PCT Days 20-24: Big Bear Lake to Cajon Pass

  1. Hey guys, not sure where you’re at today, but I have some trail beta for you from John Ladd, who is a respected winter mountaineering instructor, who is currently out hiking. He posts these updates periodically to the Facebook John Muir Trail group.

    As I’m sure you know, one of the major JMT barriers is Evolution Creek (north of Muir Pass). When I last crossed that, it was July 2015. It was mid-thigh level for me, so no problem at all – but that was a very dry summer.

    His post:
    June 3 morning update from John Colver. “We just crossed Evolution Creek near PCT/JMT crossing. The creek is 1 to 1.4 feet above the banks. We crossed at widest section on down stream side of bend. [Note: judging from the map that accompanied his message, it looks like they crossed well upstream of both of the usual summer crossings] Water was between chest and chin deep at deepest part of crossing, but slow moving. I am 5′ 9″. Two of our party are lighter and shorter so we worked as a team to assist each other. So it’s doable solo, for some, others not. We crossed at 8 a.m. which was nice because sun is out and we rewarm-ed quickly. There were blocks of ice floating down! So as of today, the key hazards are the regular challenges of river crossing plus cold temperatures. This update is for June 3. It’s clear that air temps are still cool (ice on tent at 9000 feet this morning) and it appears that peak snowmelt has yet to occur. While crossing was not difficult today, I expect this river will provide a significant challenge for Nobo PCT hikers currently south of Sierra and anyone doing JMT/PCT after peak snow melt occurs. Given the volume of snow, it seems this river could become impassable at this point by mid/end June. Further upstream (500 m), the creek breaks into several crossings which are less wide but with faster flow. These provide an alternative. Hope any of this is useful.” John Ladd note: If northbound and blocked by this crossings, the logical bailout route over Bishop Pass will encounter a nasty cornice. Be safe. Note John Dittli’s comment below “I was just over Bishop Pass; follow the “winter route” up the canyon east of the trail, a short steep section but no cornice.”

    Be encouraged to share this with other PCT hikers, and I assume you guys have a backup plan. Maybe an inflatable kayak? 😀 Okay, hope you guys are having a great time, and stay safe!

    Like

  2. More beta from further North:
    Brien Bower (PCT hiker) confirms what Jim at VVR has already stated. Bear Creek north of Bishop Pass (& Paiute Pass) is over the banks & humanly impassable. (He’s 6 ft 2 in tall & he could not get across, and he turned back.) He states that snow melt off has just begun, estimates that it will keep rising in the next month.
    VVR (& MTR) both are closed due to snow. Not open in the next 2 weeks.
    Tuolumne Meadows still closed. Tioga Pass Rd is still being plowed from both the east & west sides.
    Glen Aulin bridge north of Tuolumne Meadows reported under water or already swept by flood water (reported by NPS).


    Take care you guys!

    Neil

    Like

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