Thursday, May 9, 2013

Long update! Campo to Warner Springs - mile 109.5

I arrived in San Diego looking much like Indiana Jones in my white fishing shirt, tan pants and over sized sun hat (no beard though).  Rob Riess, a trail angel in San Diego picked me up, let me sleep in his house, gave me a container of alcohol and drove me and two other hikes over an hour to the trail head at Campo.  I was elated, having quit my job not 6 days prior and finding myself in a completely foreign landscape and with no remaining commitments other than walking for 2650 miles and sleeping outside for five months.
Clean and fresh at the start!
The trail wound its way around the town of Campo and out into the desert.  It was unlike anything I have experienced previously; desert shrubs growing around the husks of burnt trees and dry sand.  The trail is graded for horses and winds up and around hills.  Vast landscapes lay alongside your path as there are few trees taller than belly button height. Often the trial seems cut right from the bedrock of the slope.  It makes me wonder about the history and who built each section that would eventually be linked to become the PCT.
Burned landscapes abound
Trail cut from the hillside
The first 20 miles of trail from Campo are almost entirely free of reliable water sources.  I had a great internal debate about how much water to take for the trail, too much and the extra weight would slow me down, too little and dehydration would make things uncomfortable.  I have also never hiked 20 miles in a day before but had heard the trail was easier than most of the trails I'm used to.  I ended up taking about 5.5 liters, which lasted until about a mile from my first campsite at Lake Morena.  The weather was so dry and the site so free of bugs that I decided to cowboy camp, or camp without shelter for the first night.
Cowboy camping in style!
I awoke to tired muscles and no dew.

 Unfortunately I missed a turn coming out of the campground and got lost for an hour.  Six miles later began a 14 mile climb that I would finish the next morning.  The temperatures rose to over 90 degrees and with no shade on the trail I made due with my hiking umbrella when the wind died down.  Eventually I camped in a canyon and nursed my blisters.  The next day I limped 5 miles into Mount Laguna, a small town, to take care of blisters and get a larger pair of shoes.  I went from a size 11.5 to a size 13!  The outfitter in town was amazing, he stocked more lightweight gear into that tiny store than you can imagine.

After my short day in town I did an easy 13 miles that ended in the windiest conditions I have ever experienced. I  reached the remote campsite called out on my map only to find all the flat spots completely exposed to 60 mph winds and light rain.  Three section hikers behind me looked ahead and found sheltered sites another 200 yards down trail so I laid low with them through intense wind and rain.  My tent had a light drip in two spots but otherwise I was warm and dry in my down bag, unlike one of the section hikers who woke up in a puddle.  The next morning was almost as wet and windy as the night but in fits and starts.
Vast overlooks are everywhere along the trail, this one just after Pioneer Mall picnic area.

 I stopped after 12 miles to let my blisters dry out rather than continue on soaked feet.  The next morning I woke a few minutes after 5 am, felt motivated and after a cold breakfast of granola and rehydrated milk was on trial by 6:15.  By 9:15 I had made 9 miles to a water cache under a highway at Scissors Crossing.
Look closely and you can see the trail wind its way up that ridge
Mountains upon mountains!

 I stayed for a little while to talk to two other through hikers and the trail angel who stocks the cache but made 14 more miles by the time I set my ass down at the top of a huge ridge by another cache at third gate.  I was pretty hammered but it was only 3:30!  I find I can hike very fast, typically averaging close to 3 mph, but my blistered feet and tired ankles limit my range.  I think that in another week or two I'll be doing 25 mile days regularly.  Until then I try to stay ahead of any serious injury by doing a lot of stretching and self-massage.

Yesterday I was motivated by a community center in Warner Springs offering burgers and showers and
managed to push out 18 more miles.  I passed a mile marker at mile 100 and felt like a million bucks!  My longest backpacking trip was 28 miles before this trip and I just did 100!

My IT band on my left knee was hurting, not severely but enough to make me stop often to stretch and massage it back into compliance.  I spent last night camping out behind the community center after a burger, a shower and meeting more hikers.  Overall there are many more other through hikers than I expected.  I seem to meet several new people every day and run into half a dozen I've already met who I passed or are in the process of passing me.  Everyone hikes their own pace and I enjoy hiking alone and socializing at water stops and camp sites.  I seem to have an unusual hiking style of pushing for 2 hours without stopping, a quick five minute stretch break and another hour or two push before taking a longer break.  I don't hike with poles so I can eat, drink and change layers all while continuing to walk.  I hope my feet will toughen up after the rest day today and I can start doing longer days continuously.  The next town is 69 miles and an unthinkable 10,000 feet of elevation gain away.  I'm taking four days of food but hope to do it in less than that.

Well that's all for now, expect the next post in four days!


  1. Wow Michael, 100 miles! You are awesome and inspiring to the rest of us. Take good care of those blisters, one of my friend's just had one get infected.
    Thanks for the pictures too. Is that a mustache I see?
    Mom and Dad

  2. Strong work Mike and sweet 'stache! You are missed at the office.