Day 35: Lessons From Night Hiking, and A Magical Oasis

When you think of the elements you need to withstand hiking, several come to mind immediately: heat, cold, rain, snow, and the like. Yet we’ve discovered that, out here, there’s another one that’s every bit as important: wind. We’re also learning and re-learning this lesson constantly. When we camped at Fuller Ridge, it was so windy at night that we ended up taking down our tarp after an hour lest something on it actually break. Last night, we managed to camp right at the top of a ridge…and although nothing broke, it got so windy by the end of the night that I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep, worried about our tarp, starting at about 4:00 AM.

And that’s how we got up at 4:20 AM this morning,

Day 34: Night Hiking

It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago, we were struggling to keep warm round the clock and had a foot of snow piled up against our tarp. Now we have exactly the opposite problem, once again: it’s way too hot! We started out from the Acton KOA early this morning, but by 8:00 AM it was already 80° outside, and we were climbing a steep ascent with packs heavy with food and water. (One of the great ironies is that the more water you carry with you, the heavier your pack is, making you sweat more, making you…need more water.) We knew it was just ten miles to the next trail town (they come thick and fast in this section of trail!), Agua Dulce, where we could eat a massive restaurant meal for lunch.

Still, it’s just so much less fun hiking in the blazing heat, and we knew that we’re just going to get more of this. So we decided today to try out something that we’d heard about but never done before:

Day 33: A KOA Never Looked So Good

If it sometimes seems like our journey alternates between desire for the open trail and desire for creature comforts, well, that’s about how it feels to us, too. So far, it’s been a good rhythm: just about the time we start to get really smelly and gross after hiking for several days, we end up someplace with hot showers, real bathrooms, and a place to lay our heads…and these places tend to be really good motivators for getting the miles in, since, by the time you’re in range, the idea of a hot shower sounds wonderful. That’s what got us to set an alarm for 5:00 AM this morning. The side benefit was getting to see a truly beautiful sunrise: the early dawn peeking over the mountains just outside our tarp, the sun finally showing itself behind dramatic green hills as we threaded our way down one ridge after another, and the cascading light across rippled hillsides once the sun rose a bit higher.

Our destination, ironically, was

Day 31: So Beautiful

We’d only been asleep for twenty minutes when the storm started. The sound of snow landing on our tarp was new to us, yet we both knew that’s exactly what it was. The wind howled, the tarp bucked, and the snow kept coming…for hours. We were warm in our sleeping bags, yet couldn’t fall asleep, still paying too much attention to our tarp and surroundings — aware of how critical they were to us. In the end, they held firm, keeping us protected from the wind and the driving snow.

Late into the night, the storm finally died down, the wind replaced by the faint noise of snow falling. When we awoke — the world was magic. Several inches of snow had fallen all around us during the night, and was piled up high against both sides of our tarp. Snow covered everything from the picnic table outside our door to every hillside, bush, and tree we could see. It was beautiful. And this was Southern California — in May!

Times like this are

Day 30: Right Inside the Clouds (And Freezing Our Butts Off)

Yesterday, we got to look down on oceans of clouds from high above. Today, we were inside oceans of clouds. And you know what those oceans of clouds are? Cold. We’re in Southern California in May — in Los Angeles County, even! — and we, and all of our fellow hikers, were freezing all day long. It blows my mind that one of my coldest backpacking experiences ever has now happened not a hundred miles from Venice Beach, home of perpetually beautiful weather.

Today started like most other days here; we woke up and it was chilly, but we expected that, like all the other days, as soon as the sun rose it’d be plenty warm (and, usually, far warmer than we’d like). But you know what happened today?

Day 29: High Above the Clouds

Most people only get to see what we saw today from inside an airplane — and airplanes are a whole lot less pleasant than where we were. Once our road walk back to the PCT was done this morning, we spent the entire rest of the day hiking on high ridgetops above the clouds, looking down on valleys below completely filled with those quintessentially puffy, white, cotton-ball clouds. The effect was magic, as if we’d been transported to another planet.

And guess what? Not only is this not another planet, it’s actually Los Angeles. That’s right — on our road walk today we passed a sign saying “Now Entering Los Angeles County”, which we both found pretty hilarious. It turns out

Day 28: A Zero to Reunite

Everyone’s back together again! After bouncing back and forth with a number of people we truly love over the past couple of weeks, Wrightwood turned out to be the place we all got back together again. We took a zero here today, spending two nights here (last night and tonight) — and, as a result, today we saw here: Rally, Squatchie, Dilly, Dally, Sarge, Stump, and PT. It’s not everybody — most notably missing are Treeman and Hedgehog (“Treehog” has been the new trail name for them as a couple), and there are other folks we really like who also aren’t here — but overall it’s been a great reunion.

We spent the day

Upside-Down Photos Fixed

A number of folks have reported that the photos at the top of each post were appearing upside-down to them. I believe I have now fixed this for all new posts; if you see this issue for anything posted from Day 26 and later, please let me know by commenting on this post. Also, thank you to the people who let me know about it! I only have my iPhone with me, and they (of course) always display correctly for me.

Also, for anyone not clicking through to the full posts, note that I post galleries of anywhere between a few and several dozen photos at the end of each day, both on Flickr and embedded at the bottom of each post.

Technical folks:

Day 27: Poodle-Dog Bush and Road Walks

Believe it or not, “Poodle-Dog Bush” is a real thing. And it’s horrible. A large bush that thrives after wildfires (of which California has been known to have just a few), it’s something like a super-duper version of poison oak: if you even brush against it a little bit, you get blisters considerably worse than poison oak — and it’s even been known to put people in the hospital.

We’ve been through a few brief stretches of poodle-dog bush on the trail so far; most of it has been just far enough off the trail that avoiding it wasn’t too hard. (It helps that it smells really pungent — a lot like marijuana, actually.) But the stretch of trail leaving Cajon Pass and ending at Wrightwood, we’d read, had miles of the stuff on either side. Not only that, but

Day 26: Perfect Moments

Sometimes, all it takes is a single moment to make you remember a day for a very, very long time. Today’s was what you see above — except that, trust me, the pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice. You’re standing on top of a mountain nearly as high as the ones in the distance, and you’re gazing out over a panorama like that for something like a 200° field of view — it’s truly just incredible. One moment of coming around a bend in the trail and seeing that…well, it made any amount of pain worthwhile.

(Better yet, we got to follow it up with a trip to McDonald’s!)

I took that photo just