PCT – Week 1: 25 – 30 Apr 2016

April 25, 13.5 miles:  Hiked into Cajon Pass and the big draw here was the McDonald’s half a mile off the trail.  I was not particularly pumped for it but everyone else hiking had been on the trail for a couple weeks more than me and they are all psyched to eat there.  I debated hiking on but decided since it was only 12:30pm and my birthday, why not…  In addition, there was a long stretch, 22-27 miles without water coming up and a climb to over 8,000 feet.  After an hour or so of eating, I finally decided to stay the night at the Best Western and walked a mile to do laundry, resupply at the gas station and relax.
The view looking down towards Cajon Pass and MacDonalds
April 26, 19.8 miles:  This was a long day.  The trail was very mellow but after a couple hours up and then down into a valley again, it was a gradual climb up 5,000+ feet over 15 miles.  Again, warm and exposed to the sun and heat.  Everyone I camped with was pretty beat at the end.
April 27, 7.6 miles:  A short day of hiking to the highway were I hitched into the town of Wrightwood at 5,900 feet.  Met some other hikers and resupplied, found a reasonably cheap motel and did laundry.
April 28, 14.6 miles:  Got a ride back to the trailhead and was hiking by 8:30am.  Spent a couple hours with some minor ups and downs before heading up Baden-Powell peak to 9,300 feet. It was a chilly morning but sun came out and it was nice hiking weather.  The climb up Baden-Powell was not too bad although there was snow sections higher up and the last few hundred feet everyone seemed to lose the trail and just bushwhack straight up the snow.  This was OK but if you slipped, you were going to possibly fall 200-300 hundred feet before you hit some trees or rocks. I did not have any crampons but the snow was not that bad as long as you took your time.  The summit area was pretty skinny with drops hundreds of feet off each side.  Had some nice views and a good break before heading down to camp at 7,488 feet.  The campsite had a couple toilets and the place must have had 30+ hikers staying there that night.
Near the summit of Baden-Powell.  It drops off hundreds of feet on either side.
More snow on the trail coming off Baden-Powell
Apr 29, 16.7 miles:  This was a long day without much water.  I stayed at Camp Glenwood with a bunch of other hikers but the next water source was not for another 6 miles.  I really haven’t carried enough water the past couple of days but had enough for dinner and 3/4 of a quart left over for the next morning.
Apr 30, 18 miles:  This was a long day with a 2,000 foot climb in the middle of it. Luckily the morning was nice and cool and mostly downhill.  In two hours I managed to go 6 miles to the water source.  I didn’t really drink much since it was so cool.  I grabbed 3 liters of water for the climb and the rest of the day.  It was cool and breezy all day but I finished my water an hour before I finished hiking and was I conserving most of the day.  I should have taken another liter.
I camped at the the Mill Creek Fire Station rest area with a bunch of other hikers.  There was a water faucet up the hill and the guide book said to treat the water which I did.  However, sometime early in the morning I used the rest room and then proceeded to spend much of the day hanging out and using it every 20 minutes.  I am assuming I either did not treat the water long enough or with enough chemicals.  As you can see from the picture below, I picked a good camping spot for having bathroom emergencies…
During much of my hike I had issues with my left foot.  I have had Plantar Fasciitis in my left foot since last summer and knew it was a risk for the hike.  I also had it last year when I did the Long Trail in VT but I essentially ignored it on that hike as much as possible.  However, on the PCT, I was starting to compensate on my steps…perfectly good with my right foot, heel-to-toe, and then a lot with my left foot I would flat-foot it when it got too sore.
Ultimately, my gait was completely off and my left knee started bothering me and then the achilles heal.  I was contemplating getting off the trail for a few days – unlike the Long Trail which was 3 weeks long, the PCT was going to be a couple months or potentially 5-6 months if I decided to do the whole thing.
Compounding the problems is I was about to go into a 17 or 27 miles section with NO water.  Given that I was already dehydrated from having the runs and not being able to keep much water or food down, I could not see attempting this section.  Later in the afternoon I decided I would have to get off the trail and get my foot healed before I hiked further.
So a couple women were nice enough to drive me 30-40 minutes further north to Hiker Heaven in the town of Agua Dulce, CA.  This is a house that a couple open up to hikers for 2-3 months every year.  It is amazing.  They provide camping spots, a few bedrooms, showers, porte-potties, they do your laundry, and have an extensive mail system in their garage.  They are extremely nice and helpful and provide shuttle services pretty much any time into town.  The pictures below give you a rough idea of their setup. During the busy season, there are probably 25+ hikers here every day.
I ended up staying here for 3 nights while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do.  My “stomach issues” got slowly better with the foot issues, I decided to definitely get off the trail.  It’s unfortunate but injuries are part of it so I will have to look at doing the PCT another time.

General Impressions of the PCT:

The PCT is much milder to hike than the AT.  The PCT is made for horses also so there are minimal steep areas.  The AT had a lot of very steep sections, steep enough that require hands and in some cases ladders to get up or down.
The other major difference is the lack of water in Southern CA and the desert environment.  Much of the AT is deep in the woods and water is pretty regular every few miles.  A long stretch without water on the AT might be 8-10 miles.  On the PCT there are a number of sections with 20+ miles lacking water.  Although there are trees on the PCT, especially at the higher elevations, much of the trail is constantly exposed to the sun.
Anyway, I enjoyed the hiking I did and look forward to doing something else this summer while my foot heals.