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A Saunter North - Chapter 1: Welcome to the PCT

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

Hot. Dry. Relentless.


The southern section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is touted as the harshest part of the trip, and now I know why. The sun is unforgiving, the ground is hot, and the water carries are long. As I make my way to mile 3, I’m already tired and ready for a break and right then was when I met my friend the Rattlesnake. I was heading up the trail as he was heading down. The snake’s grey scales glistened in the sun while he had black diamonds running up his back to his head. He looked casual enough almost as if he was ready to exchange pleasantries as we passed each other down the trail. A diamondback isn’t someone I care to exchange pleasantries with however. I stopped dead in my tracks and watched him as he retreated down the trail. A moment of excitement as I thought he was going to head off the trail but as soon as I was ready to celebrate in my head, he decided to come back down the trail and coil up under a bush that i couldn’t hope to pass without getting bit. I clanged my hiking poles at it, was ready to toss rocks (however I thought it best to not piss off a venomous snake), and ultimately decided to wait it out. I hid around a bend in the trail for five minutes and when I peaked me head around the corner it was slithering down the trail further, saw me, and this time continued its procession uphill. It was a good little “how do ya do?!” and a heart pounding welcoming to the PCT.


I looked out at the landscape before me. It was both intimidating and a little overwhelming, but it felt good to be standing at the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail.



There were 2,650 miles between me and Canada.

My friends were looking around and checking out the scenery. We had just finished a weekend in San Diego and they were headed off to Tempe while I was getting dropped off at the border of Mexico. A heartfelt goodbye and thirty minutes later and I head off on the trail. I felt good at first, the initial adrenaline keeping me going, but that all wore off soon after my run in with my friend the rattlesnake. I pushed further until I ran into a woman from Wisconsin. We chatted for a bit and by that time I had only a few hours of sunlight left. Her plan was to make it all the way to Lake Morena which I thought was an impossible task by this night. My app said we were only at mile 6 and Lake Morena was 12.5, and at our current pace there was just no way. Instead of trying to tackle that challenge I opted to go for another hour or so before setting up camp in a sight that overlooked the valley I just hiked from.




As the sun set I realized that I had just spent my first day on the Pacific Crest Trail. Something that seemed like a far fetched dream only a week ago was now real, and I realized it isn’t just real, this is REAL!


That night first night as I went to bed I suffered symptoms of heat exhaustion. My mouth was as dry as an Egyptian mummy’s tomb, my skin hot to the touch, and cold sweats all throughout the night. I went to bed by 9 or 10pm and woke up every two hours until 7am. Throughout the night, with each waking moment, more and more negative thoughts invaded my mind. It started off with, “this is more than I signed up for,” and escalated from there. My mental and physical condition were deteriorating throughout the night. I didn’t think I would even be able to make it to Lake Morena at this point. I was ready to quit, ready to be done, and ready to go home. But I didn’t want to go home. I wasn’t done. And I sure as shit ain’t quitting. I said to myself that I would see what tomorrow brings and with that I finally found some peace in my sleep.


Water, sleep, and food do wonders for the soul. I woke feeling a bit refreshed and a bit better. My app told me I was at mile 7 and I had to make it to mile 12.5 to make it to town. I pushed onwards watching lizards scurry around me on the trail and bunnies bolt away as soon as I got within their line of sight. I was moving fast and feeling good. The thoughts from the last night quickly filtering out of my head and the memory of the rattlesnake fading, that is until I walked past a bush and heard a rattling that made my heart jump. I heard the rattle fleeing down the mountain and continued on my path.


There was a long stretch of uphill exposed hiking between me and Lake Morena. I pushed on through but I could feel my energy leaving me with each passing minute. After finally finishing the worst of the uphill and coming to a flatter area, I gained energy and speed. I booked it as fast as I could into town where I immediately headed to the malt shop I saw while looking at Apple Maps. I bee-lined it from the trail directly down the road to get a malt. A fellow hiker passed by and exclaimed, “Malt shop down the road!” I responded, “Oh really?!” while internally thinking, well of course I know that’s why I’m heading this way, but not wanting to ruin his excitement so I acted oblivious. There I sat down and enjoyed a malt and a burger and saw a fellow hiker. I chatted with him a bit and soon learned that he would be out of commission for the next few days because the blisters had gotten to him. I felt bad that his journey came to an end, or at least pause, so soon.


After finishing up at the malt shop I relaxed by the lake and took a midday siesta (one of the main strategies used to tackle the desert section) and got to meet four new hikers. I met back up with a woman I had passed earlier on the trail who is from Wisconsin. She didn’t quite make it to Morena the previous day but she made it all the same and here we all were looking out at the lake, all having accomplished the first mini milestone of our shared adventure. I chatted with the other hikers for a bit and two took off to go further down the trail and I was ready to follow soon after. But right before I left three guys stumbled into the campsite heaving and clearly dehydrated. It was 3:30pm and they had started earlier that morning. I told them that they had made a pretty good pace for 12 miles and I got weird looks from everyone around me. “You mean 20 miles right?” Now I was the one who was confused. I looked at my app and realized the info was wrong. It was short a whole 8 miles that I hiked. Here I was doubting myself because of my slow pace and difficulty to get miles and come to find out, I was going way better than I thought! This gave me a jolt of energy and not ten minutes later I headed back down the trail ready to roll.


The hike to Oak Boulder campground was fairly uneventful. The view was incredible leaving Lake Morena and even more remarkable was seeing all the progress we made in the day. The night before I was miserable, today I felt like a new person. I had a new found determination and hustled down the dirt trail. Under a bridge a mural (to me a mural to others graffiti ) read “JUST FUCKING LIVE” in all bright colors.




This perked me up and I thought, Hell yeah, just fucking live. It’s really that simple.

Three miles and a bunch of grazing cows later I pulled into Oak Boulder with two older men cheerfully greeting me at the campsite. I hardly spoke a word to them and then rushed off to a tall boulder so I could gain a better vantage point of the sun rays lighting up the sky and lighting up the mountains across the valley. It was truly a spectacular sight. My second night going to bed was much more peaceful than my first.


I woke up the next morning with the birds, then cooked up Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy. Today I had more energy than ever. Determined to make it to Mt Laguna I took off and felt like a man on a mission. Two hours in and I ran into a group of three hikers named Ariel, Romeo, and Stash. I decided to take a quick break with them and hiked down the trail a bit. I soon found out that Ariel was out of water and we were planning the trip to Laguna according to the water sources along the way. It was seven miles to the next stream or a two mile round trip down off trail down and up a steep road to get water. I had packed more than enough before leaving Boulder Oak and gladly shared the spare two liters I had in my pack. Our plan was that the two liters plus the remaining water in the group would hold us all over until the spring. Further along the trail I decided that I had to push forward and leave the group. With the water I had left and the day getting hotter, I had to make miles while I could and get to the spring as soon as possible. My plan was to rest and then filter water for the rest of the group so when they got there they wouldn’t have to wait to drink clean water. When I finally made it to the spring, I ran into two more hikers: Sheriff and Free Walker. They were just leaving and so I carried out my plan, rested and filtered water. I had lunch and hydrated. After about an hour of waiting I couldn’t wait any longer. Mt Laguna was so close and I was ready to finish the day. I worked all the way to Mt Laguna in the heat, saddened that I wouldn’t be there to surprise my new trail friends with fresh water, and was underwhelmed. I wasn’t expecting much but I the picture in my head was slightly different from what I got. I looked up on Guthooks what the next few campsites were and chose one that was another four miles down. Those last four miles were brutal, but they were worth it. Right next to the campsite was a viewpoint of the desert, a view that looked down on the mountains as they stretched off into the horizon.


There are not enough superlatives in the world that could describe seeing that scene in person. It was quiet and peaceful and magnificent.

The next day brought more difficult hiking and hot weather followed by a night of camping under the stars. I joined up with the three hikers I met at Lake Morena: Nanners, Leapfrog, and Flapjack. These guys were like seasoned vets and I felt like a little cousin tugging at their shirts as I marched along with them. After wrapping up the fourth day with them I decided to do the next day on my own. I didn’t want to slow them down and the solitude of the trail does do wonders for the soul. We were also now only thirteen miles from our first real trail town, Julian, and I was ready for some non-granola, non-dehydrated food. I took in the morning and watched Leapfrog and Flapjack take off followed soon after by Nanners and then myself. I popped on one of my favorite podcasts and that combined with hiking and the morning air was bliss. I made good time and was at Scissors Crossing by 11am. From Scissors Crossing, hikers need a ride into Julian which is 12 miles down the road in a direction similar to what we just came from. I thought there was one car that was picking up hikers and rushed to get a ride, but it turns out they were just letting their two small dogs out of the car and as soon as they saw me rushing down the road they hightailed it out of there. I can’t really be that scary can I??


After fifteen minutes of unsuccessfully hitching a ride, my fortunes turned around as a man pulled up at Scissors Crossing in a work truck. He pointed down the road, I pointed the same direction, he gave me a thumbs up, and I nearly jumped for joy. I probably would’ve been skipping if it wasn’t for my 30lb pack. I hopped in and thanked him profusely. A quick visit and car ride later he had dropped me off in Julian and I was cheerfully waving goodbye, not able to express my gratitude enough. I looked around at the town Julian and it was perfect. It’s pretty much a one road town, but my god what a road. Two restaurants, two markets, two pie shops, a beer company… my cup runneth over. My first stop was Mom's where PCT hikers can treat themselves to a few slices of pie. What I didn’t know was that I also got a free scoop of ice cream and a drink with the pie. Ahhhh I never knew pie could bring such ecstasy.


So there I sit on a bench in this small town just having spent mostly five days in the wilderness and now I am eating pie. I look up and down the road taking in the scene. Tourists overrunning the town. Friendly locals greeting people as they walk into their stores. Hikers slowly filtering in and out of Julian.


I took a deep breathe and another bite of pie. Welcome to the Pacific Crest Trail.
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Keith Adams
Keith Adams
May 26, 2021

Enjoying reading about your adventures. Remember to take care of your body, it’s your best tool next to your feet, and always stay hydrated wether your thirsty or not.

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Irene Hurner
Irene Hurner
May 23, 2021

Happy trails. Love your stories.

Grandma

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What wonderful Memories to make and what an amazing journey, and so incredibly written, we can’t wait to hear more! Stay safe! Jake & Ella

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Awesome adventures, well-written, too! Thank you. Aunt Jean

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