We wanted to get to the Warner Springs Post Office as soon as it opened on the Monday morning, in the hope of beating the crowd of other hikers picking up packages. However, we were both moving annoyingly slow.
After walking a mile up the highway to the Post Office with our packs on we were just arriving at the Post Office when the local Sheriff zoomed in ahead of us and dropped off a car load of hikers. Turns out the Sheriff was going to continue ferrying hikers from the Community Centre to the Post Office and back until he got a call. Wow, yet another person trying to help us all complete our goal. However, this time we were not beneficiaries of such kindness. Despite our efforts there was now a queue of people waiting to collect packages – many of which were proving hard to find.
When it was finally our turn Cashmere breathed a sigh of relief when the package with her new shoes came out. With four mail boxes of shoes, food, and other supplies we went outside to a picnic table to sort out the multitude of stuff.
Barb, Cashmere’s step-mom and our personal Trail Angel, had packed us all kinds of unexpected goodies. Including, to our initial dismay, a glass jar of pesto and a sachet of wet tuna (definite no-nos when through hiking). We also had twice as many cashews as we had asked for. However, our initial dismay turned into gratitude as we decided to simply eat our way through anything we didn’t want to carry.
After what seemed an age spent at the Post Office and at the picnic table consuming excess food we were finally ready to start walking again. Unfortunately it was already midmorning and it was getting warm.
So it was that we climbed into the mountains from Warner Springs during the hottest hours of the day. Cashmere had already declared herself a passenger, as she was struggling with the heat and the near constant pain from her blisters.
After the long hot climb up the hill we stopped for dinner where we treated Cashmere’s blisters. Her blisters were so swollen with fluid by now they were rubbing constantly. We had learnt a trick from one of our friends to deal with this problem, which involved putting sewing thread through each blister and tying each end.
As has now become our habit, we walked an extra few miles after dinner in search of a camp site. As we traversed a steep boulder strewn mountainside and bypassed several potential campsites we became nervous we wouldn’t find one for several miles, until we found this:
At camp we prepared for bed, which as usual, involved Cashmere trying to brush her teeth with Vagisil (which we use to prevent/treat chafe). However, on this occasion she got all the way to third base – actually applying Vagisil to her toothbrush and beginning to brush her teeth. Upon realisation Cashmere immediately started spitting Vagisil everywhere, but was having trouble getting it all out. Apparently it made her mouth tingle.
Okay so on Day 10 we got a little out of control. At 5am we were both awake so decided to get moving early. Being on a mountain side meant our camp site was in a cloud, which meant everything was wet.
This did not deter us, however we elected to start hiking without breakfast because it was far to cold and damp in our cloud world to properly enjoy Kathy’s homemade granola. We set off both wearing a long sleeve shirt and hiking skirt/sarong skirt, and were confident it would soon warm up. This strategy proved chilly but ultimately successful. Being cold meant we had to walk extra fast to keep warm, and we didn’t have to stop to take all our clothes off like the other chumps!
Eventually cloud world gave way to a new world filled with wonder – in fact two worlds filled with wonder.
By the time we reached our first water source and had lunch we had walked 12 miles. Not a bad start to the day. Our aim was to hike 20 miles, so we were well on our way.
After lunch, and drying our tent and sleeping bag, we set off to “smash some more miles” as Cashmere likes to say. As usual the trail led us up, down, and around mountain sides and we felt like we were walking in a big circle.
After around 18 miles Cashmere was in a state of collapse. However, a little rest and a munch on some granola improved her spirits and we pushed on. We reached campsites after around 20 miles but felt compelled to walk further. After around 21 miles we stopped for dinner. Yet again the meal perked us up (once we got over our blister pain) and we continued hiking into the evening in search of a camp site.
On this occasion our campsite standards became very high and we bypassed several potential campsites imagining there would somehow be something better along the trail. After 24 miles of walking, as it was getting dark, we finally stumbled upon a flat piece of ground that appealed to us. Despite the uncertainty, we both agreed that this late evening hike and search for a campsite was our favourite part of the day. Turns out we love the thrill of finding campsites that are not on a map.
At 24 miles, or around 38km, our day’s effort represented the longest day’s hiking either of us had ever done. We congratulated ourselves by setting up our tent and promptly falling asleep. We were exhausted.
Day 11 was an exceptionally weird day, there were two main themes: Paradise Valley Cafe challenge + doing the PCT fireburn detour.
Let’s start with the Cafe. When you are on the trail everyone is very excited by the prospect of town food and we were no exception. In addition, we were trying to get to our next town, Idyllwild on a weekday rather than a weekend because the hotel rates go up on weekends. So we were hustling. However we couldn’t get to the cafe too early or it wouldn’t be open (it doesn’t open until 8am and we were a mere 4 miles away.) So we slept in until around 7am (whereas we usually get up around 5am on hiking days). So we got a bit of a late start for the day, then had to walk a mile off the trail to go to the cafe and get water there. Unfortunately they weren’t serving lunch at 9:30am so we got breakfast burritos, which as is typical in america were huge. We were stuffed. It was hard to walk after. Physio was feeling the aftermath of the Burrito well into the afternoon.
Okay so most of the other “through hikers” were actually hitching from the Paradise Cafe to the nearby town of Idyllwild. However those people (ahem slackers) were actually skipping a huge section! The PCT continues across the Pines-to-palms highway that the cafe is on and has a route that brings you fairly close to Idyllwild. However, 12 miles up from the highway (at mile 162.9) the trail is closed due to 2013 wildfire damage so that in order to do a continuous walk to Canada from Mexico you have to leave the PCT and do a 20 mile detour. We, (especially judgy judgy no-cutting-corners-Schmitt) thought these skippers were losers. You can’t really say you walked from Mexico to Canada/walked the PCT if you skipped sections and got rides!
Obviously Cashmere and Physio are better than that. So we took on the detour challenge. The PCT section was exquisite. There were big rocks and killer views. And because most of the hikers were too big of wimps we basically had the place to ourselves.
I’m not gonna lie it was tough work to get up there. Lots of climbing and the track was pretty rough. Much tougher than most of the PCT that we have been on thus far.
But what goes up must come down, with the detour anyway.
So many of the ‘slacker’ PCT (wannabe) through hikers used excuses like “the detour sounds confusing” to not do it. I will give them that there wasn’t a lot of information about it like water spots or places to camp. But what they didn’t know was that it was also hard and pretty weird. Because we weren’t sure about future water security Cashmere made sure to fill up while on the PCT but to reach the closest spring to the trail she had to go down a stupidly rough and steep track to reach ‘Tunnel Spring’ and back up again. Then we climbed a good 2000 feet, with heavy packs loaded with water. We’d already walked at least 16 miles (and stopped at least 3 times to nurse our poor blisters) when we reached the detour junction. Then the detour began with rough switchback descending complemented by the stench of a nearby skunk. We descended through a meadow and onto a paved road. With a little navigation and observation we then found a dirt road that we needed to descend for 5 or so miles. It was getting dark and we were exhausted so we tried to set up camp in the world’s worst campsite: it was flat but windy and surrounded by seemingly fossilized cow shit, prickly pear cactus and rocks. There were lots of rocks, we couldn’t even get one tent peg in properly. I am not gonna lie, there was frustration and exasperation. We had dinner which helped but we realized we would have to walk further to find somewhere we could pitch a tent and maybe have it stay up. Ahhh! We’d had a 24 mile day the previous day, 20 or so already this day plus rough tracks with lots of climbing.
So we walked with our headlamps on and tried to find a place less rocky which proved to be hard. After dismissing a ‘bulldozer zone’ contender, we finally settled for a drainage ditch a few more miles along. We set up camp and fell asleep exhausted. We had walked 22 tough miles. No wonder everyone skips this….
We really wanted a short day to get to Idyllwild but we still had 15 or so miles to go. Ugh. There were vultures
There were roads, but at least with some views
There was trouble finding a mountain bike track which for a bit caused walking on the world’s worst road for pedestrians. Then there was a final, very very long dirt road which to our amusement another non-slacking but tired through hiker expressed their sentiment by writing things in the dirt like, “Jesus Christ”, ” no” and “I’m still alive”. I added “no more!” a few miles further along.
After the never-ending dirt road we navigated 2 miles or so of suburban streets until FINALLY we got to Idyllwild centre where we happened to get the last room at the favourite hote where we got to do laundry, shower, lie in bed eating snacks and then go out for a gluttonous american burger dinner (and felt real ill after eating the whole thing…we need to stop trying to do that here). We decided we needed and deserved to take a zero the next day.
Zero day. We really didn’t do much except prepare for the next section of the hike, rest, and eat too much.