The hundred or so miles out of Wrightwood started off with a 2,800 foot climb up to Mount Balden-Powell, a 9,500 foot tall mountain named after some kind of boyscout version of George Washington. Rather than lump everything into one exhausting day, I chose to "nero" or only hike 5 miles with two friends to the base of the mountain and camp. My friends go at a slower pace and it was nice to be forced to take it easy rather than my usual steam rolling approach. We ran into a few other hiker friends who had slack packed the section from north to south and had spent the last hour trying to hitch back into Wrightwood to get their packs. They finally caught a break when some benevolent rednecks came out of a dirt road nearby and picked them up.
The climb wasn't so bad, steep so over rather quickly. I felt ok at altitude and the weather was cool in the morning. At the top was a boyscout monument and a 1,500 year old tree. I was more impressed by the tree. The trail continued along the ridge, rolling up and down with the terrain until hitting the "frog detour". An endangered frog is said to live along a 5 mile section of trail which has been closed the last few years. I agree with the sentiment but the "official" detour is 18 miles long... Rather than add a day to my walk I chose the old official detour, four miles of trail and a 3 mile road walk. Various hiker resources called the road walk dangerous despite having shoulders and a total of 6 cars passing me in the hour long trek. That continues the theme of this trail; weigh the risks in a realistic way and ignore the over cautious fears to come out on top.
The next climb kicked my butt. 1,800 feet in the heat of the day was not fun but I got it over with, kept on trucking and made my way to a trail camp half way up a 1,000 foot climb. The camp had plenty of water and for the first time in any quantity - mosquito's. As I made camp I thought it would be nice to have a fire since they were actually allowed in the Angeles Forest so I struck up a rather pitiful one with gathered branches and twigs. Later on the sky grew hazy and I could faintly smell smoke. I suspected a wildfire but the winds were light and I had a mountain range between me and whatever was burning so I slept peacefully after a mountainous 22.5 miles.
That next morning was smoke free and I got an early start thanks to a mosquito buzzing in my ear, up before 5 and on trail before 6. I rolled along up that climb, past a waterless empty boyscout camp and up yet another climb. Pretty soon it was 10 am and I had done almost 12 miles. The old saying "10 by 10:00, 20 by 2:00 and you have a thirty in the bag" came to mind and I pressed on. Eventually I hit some sections of trail littered with poodle dog bush, a poisonous bush said to frequently put hikers in the hospital with severe rashes. The remainder of that day and all of the next day or two later involved what became known as the poodle dog bush dance, a kind of sneaking around the large bushes to avoid touching yourself or your pack against the leaves. It really breaks your rhythm up. Where its impossible to avoid there are detours along dirt roads that I happily took advantage of. All the while a plume of white smoke grew off in the distance from the power station fire. By 3:00 I had 24 miles on the books and caught up to a group of friends that left before me the previous day. They wanted to put in another 5 miles to a campsite shown on our maps and described in the guide book. I loafed around, drank and ate for an hour and said what the hell. We headed up the 800 foot sandy climb, wound our way around the ridge to where the campsite was supposed to be only to find more poodle dog bush. Apparently the area burned and the maps and guidebook have not been updated. Rather than give up, we pressed on another 1.5 to a stream crossing and camped on the the trail, exhausted at 7:00. Still, that was my first 30.
The next day took a few false starts to get moving but we banged out 18 miles of poodle dog bush dancing and detours to a KOA "campground"/RV park/train tracks/lion preserve. I made friends with a fellow camper and the next morning pushed on the 10 miles to hiker heaven at Agua Dulche - a trail angels house outfitted to sleep 50 hikers. There we were informed that the next 60 miles of trail was closed due to fire and they were organizing shuttles to "hikertown", the next trail angel spot right smack in the middle of the Mojave desert. My day off included an expensive trip to REI for new shoes, new socks and a new shirt. After my day off I took a morning shuttle with friends, we waited out the heat of the afternoon in the bizarre collection of eerily quiet fake buildings. I left around 6:30 with some friends and we rolled the pancake flat walk along the California Aqueduct together. Rather than hike all night like the others, I spurned the crowd and stopped to make camp at 10:00 that night after making almost 10 miles. One friend joined me, another 10 or 15 passed us in the night. We woke around 4:45 and got on trail by 5:30, finishing the six miles to the next water source - a cache under an aqueduct bridge. On the way we passed almost all of those who left after us and attempted the hike all night, apparently too tired too continue to their 16 to 24 mile goals. At the bridge most of them caught up, too sleep deprived to continue but citing the 85 degree heat at 8 am. My well rested friend and I pushed on, conquering a 1,200 foot climb to make it to a long siesta at a canyon side creek by 11 am. We slept out the heat of the day and left the shade and water at 4:45. More climbing continued to a well stocked cache of apples, water and furniture. Eventually we stopped 2 miles later around 9:30 that night to dry camp on the saddle of a burnt ridge. This morning left 8 downhill miles and a ride into town. Our ride even stopped by the post office and grocery store making this the ugliest but easiest resupply day of the trail.
I feel pretty good after some time in the jacuzzi and hope to get a full day in tomorrow on the 144 miles to Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert and the start of the Sierra.
Pictures coming tonight!