The day I left Big Bear Lake I made my first wildlife friend. The most relaxed lizard I’ve ever met was sunning on a picnic table by a water spigot a couple miles in. He initially gravitated towards my friend Funkle but was perfectly content to lounge on my hand as well.
That night and the following day were very cold. I was cozy at night in my bag and bivy but hiking didn’t quite warm me up. I had my hat and mittens on the whole day. That night I camped near Picnic and Twinkle Toes and we made a fire.
For the rest of the of the stretch I tailored my pace to accommodate 4 events. Spending some time soaking in the Deep Creek hot springs, getting to the Cleghorn picnic area (where pizza can be ordered) in the afternoon, hitting McDonalds during breakfast menu hours, and of course, being in Wrightwood for Louise’s arrival.
I would reach the hot springs 15 miles into the third day, which, if I could do 5 or 6 more miles after, would put me in a good spot to reach the pizza spot (20 miles from the hot springs) in the afternoon. Then, if I could do at least 5 miles after pizza, I could easily make it to McDonalds (14 miles from the pizza spot) by 10:30 the next morning*. Then I would have two days to finish the 27 miles to Wrightwood. *I know that McDonalds has all day breakfast but the menu is limited and they often don’t have biscuits.
I had hot springs on my mind from the very start of the third day. 6 miles and the trail crossed a ravine holding a decently sized creek. Aha! Normally I would have gotten in a body of water that large but I knew the hot springs were 9 miles ahead so I waited. The trail started following the river, traversing the ridge 200 feet above. I saw a sign. ‘Deep Creek’ I would be following this for 9 miles. Those 9 miles were truly a test of my resolve. The sun beating down on me stepping stepping stepping across the stones and dirt all the while sounds of cool gushing water below. If Tantalus was a PCT hiker he would forever be walking this stretch.
And the hot springs delivered. The creek continued as usual and very hot water flowed from a few places in the banks. People had cemented rocks together to create hot tubs along the creek. So there were still large deep pools of cold water to swim in. I spent a few hours here, swimming and soaking, eating and doing laundry.
But the pizza spot was calling. I packed up and walked onwards, 5 more miles till the ravine opened into a large valley. Here before sunset I could see a huge spillway and the silhouette of power lines on the horizon. We were nearing civilization. That night we found friends camping on an island in a tiny creek and made camp as light disappeared.
The next day I spent hours traversing brown, recently burnt hills looking out on some farmland and ahead to cloud shrouded mountains. Eventually the trail touched down and joined with paved sidewalk and road before back through some lush brush and trees and opening to a large lake! I found a nice picnic spot by the shore and undertook a perfect break. Swimming, eating, napping, and catching up on my journal. Before walking 1.5 miles and eating half a pizza. Man life is good.
McDonalds in the morning was thrilling. I had set out and camped the night before with a friend I’d made at the hot springs. We were 7 miles and change from McDonalds. An early start and we arrived before 8:30. First coffee, orange juice, pancakes, and an egg and cheese biscuit. Then more orange juice, pancakes, and another biscuit.
By ten there were at least a dozen other hikers. McDonalds was an exciting thing in itself, but it was also the last water for the next 25 miles, uphill. I set out with two others by 11:30, carrying 6 liters. We passed under the highway through a tunnel, across railroad tracks, and began to climb our way past civilization.
That morning I had woken to the most frozen condensation on my bivy and bag I’d yet experienced. Sheets of ice. So had most everyone who’d been at McDonald’s that morning. We took a nice afternoon break to dry everything and steel ourselves for the 5000 ft climb and 20 miles remaining to Wrightwood. We certainly wouldn’t finish it that day but we hoped to make it 12 miles.
Oh man what a bear it was! The longest switchbacks ever. Never particularly steep but unrelenting. I was really feeling all the extra water weight. Much of this stretch was recently scourged by fire and the trail was eroding, a slightly less slanted line across a steep steep hillside. A falter could be fatal. We had been overly optimistic and only made it 8 miles, finally camping on a dirt road as the sun set.
Wrightwood has been pleasant. I’ve had some pancakes and most importantly Louise arrived today! She is falling asleep next to me now. Tomorrow we set off on her first day. Here’s a bunch of pictures.