Big Bear City to Wrightwood via Cajon Pass

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Day 19 (Continued)

So Papa Smurf dropped us off at mile 266 at about 4:00pm and we tried to get in 9-10 miles before dark. It was fairly uneventful hiking except we saw another rattlesnake and it was crazy. We heard it well before we saw it and both froze to try to figure out where it was. It was a few metres off the trail and we were bemused as to why it was rattling real crazy at us. What’s worse it was coiled up with it’s head hovering towards us and it was flicking its creepy snake tongue at us and looking ready to strike. Sorry we were too scared to get a photo.

Day 20

The night of Day 19 was a really cold one. Physio struggled to keep warm and as a result didn’t have the best sleep. We were camping above 7,000 feet. As a result the day started with a grumpy Physio who was also suffering hay fever.

After taking one of the rather old antihistamine pills that Physio has randomly been carrying around for several years the misery started to abate.

We also managed to get mobile phone coverage to call our personal trail angel (Barb) and put in an order for a down jacket. It turns out after almost three weeks of hiking and the associated loss of body fat Physio’s 12 year old woollen sweater is no longer warm enough.

With so many problems to solve we felt we took a long time to do any real hiking. However, once we finally got going the landscape changed from nice open alpine woodland to bare burnt out shadeless misery.

Big Bear Lake - Before burnt mysery
Burnt out shade for miles

Eventually we started to follow a delicious looking creek, with many great looking pools. But it was all a tease because we were aiming to cover a few more miles. Physio also fell victim to the creek when he slipped and fell while rock hopping across it. In the process he banged up his knee and gave the solar charger a dip. Poor Physio – things just weren’t going his way.

As usual Cashmere was holding it together for the team, although she continued to develop her now burgeoning blister portfolio. Somehow despite all the dramas we made it to Deep Creek, covering almost 24 miles.

That night we enjoyed the luxury of camping near a decent sized creek. Upon arrival Physio sat in the cold Deep Creek to ‘ice’ his knee for over an hour while filtering water. Cashmere meanwhile had a quick dip to wash away the days dirt and dust.

Day 21

Physio was on a severe go slow. It was taking him literally hours to get ready. Cashmere slowly combusted under the pressure of Physio’s slow motion morning routine, until eventually she exploded with frustration. She declared she would walk without him if he couldn’t get ready early in the morning the next day.

So…we didn’t get started until about 9:30am and it was already getting hot, much to Cashmere’s dismay. We were hiking through a notoriously hot shadeless section, which made matters (and Cashmere’s mood) even worse. However, when we passed the 300 mile mark Cashmere still managed a lovely smile.

Despite her frustration Cashmere can't help but give us a 300 mile smile.

Eventually we arrived at the Deep Creek Hot Springs that everyone kept talking about. We couldn’t understand why everyone was so interested in hot springs when we were hiking in a hot shadeless desert. We had also heard they might be kind of weird, and that clothing was “optional”.

We knew we were at the hot springs when we suddenly saw crowds of people around Deep Creek (it was a Saturday and we were dangerously close to Los Angeles). Also, clothing was definitely optional, which became immediately obvious when we saw a guy walking past completely naked except for the full hiking pack he was carrying.

So despite feeling a little weird we hung around in the hot pools and the neighbouring cold creek while we waited for a cooler time of day to hike.

The hot pools scene as we departed.

As we walked away from the hot pools it really struck me how wrong we were about the PCT. With the number of hikers doing the trail we had visions of trash and human excrement all around the trail.

Instead what we have found is in the areas only thru-hikers and section-hikers go there is very little rubbish and the trail is well respected. Through hikers are for the most part a very conscientious bunch.

However, as soon as you get somewhere popular for the general public suddenly there is trash and graffiti everywhere. The people you need to worry about are evidently the day walkers and weekenders! One graffiti artist was even mourning my death. Maybe they had seen me in my zombie-like state in the morning and wanted to wish me a peaceful afterlife that didn’t involve eating brains.

This beautiful swimming hole was surrounded by graffiti

"RIP Jake M"

After exiting the Deep Creek Canyon and having dinner the sun began to set. We soon found ourselves hiking in the dark (with head torches) in search of a camp site.

At this point Physio was re-energised and became confident in the possibility of hiking a marathon the following day to the Best Western at Cajon Pass. For some reason we had become fixated on reaching Cajon Pass as soon as possible – even though we knew it was just an Interstate Freeway service centre. To ensure our timely arrival at this incredibly desirable cluster of service stations we decided to ‘cowboy camp’ and get up before 5am.

Physio AKA 'Jake M' re-animated

For those who don’t know, Cowboy camping essentially means sleeping without a shelter. As modern day cowboys we still had a ground sheet, sleeping mats, and a cozy down sleeping bag.

Day 22

Despite Cashmere’s fear of creepy crawlies or cougars we both slept soundly and were unmolested in the morning. Without a tent to take down and with ready access to our packs we were back on the trail fast in the morning.

With such an early start we pretty much smashed the first 16 miles. During this time we had one or two run-ins with snakes. One of which Physio walked within inches of as it lay down a bank on the edge of the trail.

Cashmere doesn't like snakes.

We even bypassed a swim in a lake and a couple of off-trail water sources – such was our dedication to the day’s goal. We were pinning our hopes on a small stream we thought would still be flowing.

How could we resist a swim?

After winding around the contours of a mountain and nervously passing numerous dry creek beds and canyons we saw our friend J-Bird ahead on the trail with wet hair. He called out that the stream was flowing. The stream was everything we had hoped for and more. It even had a mini waterfall perfect for filling water bottles and dipping your head.

At the stream we hung out with Papa Smurf the Second and eventually opted to lunch in the partial shade of the surrounding trees.

Cashmere at our little oasis

After lunch at the stream it was a fairly simple descent down to Cajon Pass, except we had to dodge a whole series of snakes. One of the snakes after lunch was also interested in lying on the bank with its head right at the edge of the trail, and this time it was a rattler. I’m not sure if they were all just doing it to mess with us, but it seemed the first one of us would walk past unaware and the second would notice and have a freak out.

Another snake retreats into the shrubs

So around 26 miles and numerous snakes later we arrived at the majestic Cajon Pass. What a beautiful sight we saw:

Our first sight of the Best Western sign

Okay so Cajon Pass was just as weird as it sounds and looks. But…what we didn’t tell you is the Best Western does a PCT hiker discount of $62 a room including a hot buffet breakfast for two, a swimming pool, hot tub, and guest laundry.

Day 23

So even though Cajon Pass is totally weird we REALLY liked the Best Western and had a zero day there. We ate monster breakfasts and a lot of Del Taco, and had multiple hot tub sessions. It was sweet.

Day 24

Sadly we had to say goodbye to the Best Western. Leaving it was hard, not just because of the hot tub and delicious breakfasts, but also because we had to dash across multiple lanes of high speed traffic. We also had to enter a weird tunnel to another reality – part of the official PCT.

Goodbye Cajon Pass...we're not even sure how we feel about you.
Tunnel to another reality.

Once in our new reality we began the long climb towards Old Baldy and ultimately Wrightwood. At the start of the day we walked with Limey – a lovely British lad – but soon discovered he walked too fast for us so let him go.

I’m not sure if it was because we were trying to keep up with Limey, but for some reason the first few hours of hiking flew by and by the time we stopped for lunch we had already covered 15 miles. We also ran into some of our favourite PCT hikers, the Three Amigos and the Santa Cruz Boys.

Dream Lunch Spot
From left to right - Jangles, Captain Blackfoot, Limey, Lupin, and Physio enjoying the dream lunch spot

After lunch suddenly we were struggling. Physio was feeling occasional pain behind his right knee and was now walking gingerly. Despite this setback we struggled onward for about 6 more miles before making camp. We were now above 8,000 feet and it was a cold night.

Physio wore everything to bed to keep warm...even his jacket and headtorch

Day 25

Cashmere awoke to a stunning sunrise (Physio was still asleep – as shown above). When we finally got moving (Physio was on a go slow again) we walked the 7 or so miles to meet a road where we would hitch to Wrightwood.

Sunrise over sea (of clouds)

It turns out the particular road we were trying to hitch on had very little traffic. After about 40 minutes of standing around, and when the threat of a 5 mile highway walk was looking very real, a lovely woman who had just walked her dog said she would drive us to town.

Once in town we went about our usual habits – eating, buying more trail food, collecting mail, sending mail etc. This included a trip to the hiker friendly hardware store to collect two packages – including a new down jacket that Barb  arranged. The hardware store in Wrightwood is amazing – they collect hiker packages from the local post office and maintain a register to make sure they are all accounted for. What’s more, out the back of the store is a designated hiker hangout area.

Then we were standing in the street talking to our friends the three amigos whilst contemplating lunch when a woman stopped her car nearby and said, “how many for a log cabin?” She asked for a show of hands. The 3 amigos were in but we were planning to keep hiking given how recently we had been chilling in Cajon Pass. It was incredibly hard to resist the prospect of hanging with the three amigos in a free cozy log cabin that night. What’s more we knew we could be eating the ‘Mile High Pizza’ that we kept hearing about, since it was opening at 4pm. However, we somehow managed to resist. I still can’t believe how many people want to help us achieve our goal and how nice they are.

Speaking of which, once we finished our town chores we had to get a ride back to the trail. I’ll leave that story for the next post though…

Thanks for reading!