Day 4 – Pioneer Mail to milepost 83 – 31 miles in 13 hours
Today started off with a 25 mile slack pack from the Pioneer Mail area in Laguna to Scissors Crossing. The day started off cool and windy, but the descent to Scissors was mostly fairly easy and I was able to make good time along the way, taking about 9 hours for the 25 miles.
Shortly after leaving Pioneer Mail I came across a rocky butte that looked out over the valley, and mounted into the rock were various plaques in memory of a variety of people, none of whom were familiar to me. I assume it was a popular place to scatter ashes, and the plaques were commemorating those whose ashes had been scattered.
The first mile or two of the day the trail followed what looked like an abandoned road cut in the cliff side high above the valley. The next long stretch followed the rolling hillsides as the elevation slowly declined. Visibility was pretty good through this stretch since there was not a tree in sight, just small scratchy bushes. There were times though where the brush was tall enough, and cut back from the trail, so that it looked like a hallway.
At about the 10 mile point I came out on a dirt road and found 5-6 dirt bikes and riders sitting on their bikes. I talked with them briefly and then went on, and found that the trail descended rapidly for a mile or so. I kept expecting the bikers to come roaring down the trail, but they never did. Guess they were happy with the road.
After the long descent the trail, naturally, went back up again. This time it traversed around through the hills, first on one side and then the other. Eventually it started down again, and it seemed to drop forever. And the further down we went the dryer it seemed to become and the more prevalent the cactus became. Some of the cactus was blooming and they had beautiful reddish purple blossoms; it seemed not to matter what type of cactus, their blooms all looked the same to me. There were also a lot of Yucca plants in bloom as well as some other small wildflowers.
The last 2-3 miles to Scissors cut across a fairly sandy plain that was dominated by cactus, Yucca (and similar pants), and some thorny shrubs. This was the closest to a desert I had seen so far, and was actually in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I flushed a jack rabbit during this crossing, but so far still no snakes.
I spent most of the day chasing a group that had left Pioneer Mail the previous afternoon, slowly catching all but one of them before hitting Scissors, and found Martin to have just beat me. It helped that I was only carrying half of what they were, but it felt good none-the-less.
At Scissors, Sue met me, along with Monte and a BBQ; plus half a dozen other hikers, most of whom were just getting back onto the trail. Ate a chicken sandwich and drank a bottle of tea, and then loaded up the big pack and set off in the San Felipe Hills to find a place to camp. As the trail ascended I was surprised to find the variety of cactus along the trail; more than I had seen elsewhere so far.
I had initially only planned on going up a short while, until I found a good place to camp. But as the trail went up and up, I felt strong and kept pushing on. Eventually I realized I was not far from a 30 mile day, and so foolishly pushed on past a couple of nice places. And of course once I had passed the second of those, there were no more. And to top it off the wind, which had been strong all day, became fierce. There were times I thought it would blow me off the trail. I ended up having to use my bandanna to tie my hat on tighter than I could get it with just the button on the hat cape.
Slowly, the party of fresh hikers caught and passed me, further reducing my chances for finding a good spot. I finally found a small flat spot between the trail and the cliff, sheltered by a couple of small bushes, and decided that would have to do. A few minutes later Martin came by and I decided to follow him for a bit and see if we could find something better.
Half a mile further on he found a small ridge above the trail that seemed somewhat less windy, and had two flat spots; home for the night, 31 miles from the days starting point. It was pretty exposed but had a wonderful view. So we hurriedly setup camp, ate dinner and turned in, just a bit after dark. The wind threatened to blow us away all night, but we managed to keep ourselves and our gear in place during the night and then were treated to a wonderful sunrise. This was my first experience with cowboy camping, and it was a memorial one indeed.
Day 5, Mile 83 to Mile 104, 21 miles in 10 hours
Day broke early and beautiful but very windy. Martin was up and gone about daylight and Early Bird and Squirrel came by 5 minutes later. They were smarter and had stopped at one of the nicer spots earlier along the trail and then set out long before sunup. We saw their headlamps a mile before they got to us.
The trail traversed along the west facing slopes of the San Felipe Hills around the 4000 foot level most of the day before switching sides for a couple of hours as the trail began to descend to Barrel Springs. The trail follows a relatively level course, although there are some exceptions, and winds in and out along the ridges that run down to the surrounding valleys. That, and the fact that there are no trees in the San Felipe’s meant that you could often times see the trail for a mile or more ahead. In particular was a section during the final descent, where I could see the trail I walked an hour later.
I caught up with Martin, Early Bird and Squirrel at a water cache mid morning. I didn’t actually go down to the cache, but Martin did, and he reported that the hikers who had left Scissors when we did had set up camp around the cache and were busy smoking up some of their hash. Apparently that was their normal mode of operation. Smoke all morning, then race to a new spot and repeat; at least until they came to a town where they could hang out for a few days.
Seems like a long trip seldom goes by that I don’t take a tumble, and today was hopefully the ‘day’ for this trip. During the long descent I tripped and fell to one knee and a hand. Scrapped up that shin and thigh some, but seemed no worse for the wear.
Finally saw a snake as well. Unfortunately it was only a garter snake. I am really looking forward to seeing a rattlesnake, and it seems like everyone else has sighted at least one so far.
At the north end of the San Felipe’s is Barrel Spring. I rounded a corner in the trail and was surprised to find a crowd gathered around a cement tank with a little trickle of water dumping into it. As introductions were made, I recognized one of them as a thru from last year who had set off into a storm in Washington and got stranded for a few days, resulting in a SAR callout. When I told someone later that I had encountered this person, they were excited that they might get to meet this ‘legend of the trail’. All I could do was shake my head; don’t know when you got to become a legend for doing something stupid.
Most of that group where heading off for Warner Springs, 9 miles down the road, looking to spend the night behind the community center wanting to be ready for the post office opening and breakfast. Early Girl, Squirrel and I decided we did not want to be a part of that party so opted to stop earlier if we could find a spot. At least a mile of the trail was through grasslands that looked like something from the Serengeti.
Eventually we found a nice sandy spot alongside a small brook about 4 miles up the trail. Martin headed on off to Warner Springs but quickly changed his mind and came back, camping with us. We had a quiet ad restful few hours before dark, washing up in the brook a bit followed by eating and visiting. About dark Patrick came into camp and setup as well.
It was a pretty cool spot, listening to the brook babble, the frogs croak, and other creatures moving around outside as they went down to the water. This was probably the best campsite on the trail so far.
Day 6 morning – Mile 104 to Warner Springs – 5 miles
Up early and headed out shortly after light, but long after Martin, Early Bird and Squirrel. The trail quickly entered into anther mile or two of grasslands. During this I caught up with Hog, another hiker my age who I had encountered several times so far. He had stopped short of our campsite by less than a mile.
Before getting to Warner Springs Patrick caught up with us and walked with us the last ½ mile into town, and the community center with its promised breakfast.
I must admit I was impressed with the effort the folks of Warner Springs made to take care of us hiker folks. Big breakfast for $5, showers and laundry were also available, as well as rides to the post office a mile away. The community center is only 1/4 from the trail and is well worth the stop.
During my time there, the pot crew showed up and were like hyenas on a dead wildebeest going through the hiker box, and then taking over the bathroom to get their free ‘showers’ in the sink. Don’t know if they ate breakfast, or paid for it, but it was sad to see them appearing to abuse the hospitality of the community center.
I had originally planned on meeting Sue there and spending the rest of the day, but it was so early, and I felt so good, that I just ate breakfast, showered, resupplied from the car, kissed Sue goodbye, and headed back out for a few more miles.