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PCT: Days 11 - 19

Day 11

“What are all these holes in the trail that I see so many of?” I asked Hot Cheeks, who has now rejoined the trail following her brush with hypothermia and frostbite.

“Oh, those? Tarantulas.”

Hadn’t expected that. Shortly after, we got a call from WildCat, who is about five miles ahead of our trio to say she’d turned around - she’d been growled at by a mountain lion somewhere around mile 85. Shortly after she’d met another hiker, and turned around again.

Anyway today we are back up in altitude, although only around 3,500 feet. At mile 85 - so a measely 8 miles today. So much for rest days giving us a bit of oompf!

Day 12

Woke this morning to my tent surrounded by snow - but, as I’d kept the ‘front doors’ open, I was treated to a crisp, blue sky to admire. Hence both Panic Noodles, my Danish travelling companion, and I lay in for a while, not really getting going until 9:30 ish. Shocking!

Aaaaand so we got another eight miles done - which is fine, no point getting to Warner Springs, our next target, on Saturday evening just to hang around waiting for the post office to pick up my shiny new tent on the Monday. Thus, we’re averaging half of what we need to be doing - although both Panic Noodles, and I are bushwhacked half way through the day anyway. Hot Cheeks, our American expert in all things PCT, assures us that this is absolutely fine for now. We haven’t seen another soul all day though.

Oddly, tonight is the first time I have finally managed to erect the Belisha Beacon in a manner that isn’t trying to kill me. We’ll see how sleeping goes tonight. Tomorrow, we should be getting to mile 100. Whoop, whoop.

Day 13

Eleven miles through desert then meadows and plains between the mountain ranges. We passed one random cave for which I have no information. We finally stopped by a running rivulet where the three of us soaked our feet until they were numb in the ice-cold water, and admired the chaffing in our nether regions.

I had spent much of the day with my middle finger sticking out - I got stung by some unknown cretin and to avoid it getting worse rubbing on my hiking pole, I decided to offend the wildlife instead.

In contrast to yesterday, today being a Saturday, we have seen plenty of day-hikers all of whom are enormously positive about what we’re trying to do - it makes a welcome reprieve from the negativity of Facebook, where animosity still reigns supreme.

Two burly fireman asked us where we were going…

“Places” I said fearing they’d hoick me over their shoulder and dump me off the trail. Once we’d established they weren’t here to drag us off the mountain - although I think Hot Cheeks would have loved that, they were full of praise for what we’re doing.

From what we can glean, women outnumber men still on the PCT. We’re the tortoises to the hares, and the hares are all getting injured, cold and full of quittage. Our progress may be slow but we are persevering - and that makes us proud. Oh, and we passed the 100 mile marker. In my case, at a crawl.

Then as night fell, our little trio Tramily became four: Jo, my fellow Brit, staggered into our camp. Like us, she’s stuck with it. She’s not seen any other thru-hikers since she left Mount Laguna. We sat watching two hawks performing aerial acrobatics as the sun went down.

Today has been a good day.

Day 14

We got to the resupply shop at Warner Springs- which is a wonderful volunteer-based community centre in the arse-end of nowhere.

Unlike other years, where one could visit; decompress; get some shade from the midday-sun; charge phones; socialise; and select from a wide range of re-supply, this year Corona Virus has us standing behind a locked gate. We wait for the volunteer, Patrice - who is just lovely, to notice us, then we have to stand behind a pink line and yell our requests at her from a distance. She jumps in her mini, driving the 100 metres or so backwards and forwards, taking our orders, then distributing our food, and collecting our battery packs to be charged. Each time dashes back and forth, she sanitises her hands and car. It's surreal.

I ordered lunch: 2 snickers, 1 bag of crisps, 1 ice-cream and some lime-flavoured soda water.

In other news, we saw the iconic Eagle Rock...

Me: being carrion

Time now to hang around mile 109 until my tent arrives. I may be some time…

Day 15

Unbelievably my tent was there! So the Belisha Beacon is no more, instead I am the proud owner of the Clingfilm Castle, a two-person tent with oodles of space for me and my stuff.

Left Hot Cheeks and NoNameJo at Warner Springs in the afternoon, as Panic Noodles and I started the long climb ultimately to 8,000 feet. We did five miles in the boiling heat of the afternoon to a sandy creek at mile 115, catching sight of lizards, toads, woodpeckers, hares galore and a very strikingly beautiful blue bird. No idea what it is.

Of course, if the wildlife has come out of hibernation, so have the snakes….

We’ve also encountered our first knots of Poison Oak and we think Poodle Dog Bush - America’s very dangerous foliage. As Panic Noodles says - suddenly everything is out to get us, and it’s getting scary.

Day 16

Saw us climb, yet again, up to 5,500ft - although gradual, the twelve miles of uphill was exhausting, especially the last mile where we believed we had to carry four litres of water to get us to our next camping stop.

We were wrong about that because a place that had closed down is, in fact, still open, albeit ramshackle and desolate. On a typical year there’d be between 50 and 100 people here at any one time. Panic Noodles and I are the only two - we’ve opted to sleep in the mobile home, which is offered on a first come, first served basis. The lack of competition made it a fair fight but it’s pretty grim. We’re both too knackered to put up our tents though.

Saw a ton of wildlife: lots of black lizards, a few brown ones and a beige one. I startled lots of desert birds, and some of them startled me back. And I saw my first snake…

Day 17

Saw my second snake, but same species as the first one. Think that is a good thing. Saw an electric blue lizard too. And I saw the inside of a lot of overgrown bushes - the PCTA aren’t doing any trail maintenance this year, and already the impact is being felt. Sometimes very sharply!

Downhill all day - you’d think we’d crushed some miles. Nope, a mere ten! And tomorrow a mere ten going uphill again, each mile rising 110ft on average. And it’s bloody hot.

On the plus, we’ve completed 5% of the trail. Yay.

Day 18

We got up hear the news that Hot Cheeks has quit. I am sad.

I managed to crack out 2.5 miles in the first hour - proving that to be the golden hour. Things slowed considerably after that, having been hit by the runs so you can imagine my delight upon discovering a latrine at mile 145 supplied by Trail Angel Mary on whose land it sits.

After a fairly lengthy stop, I told Panic Noodles I was going to push on and try to break the back of fifteen miles - which is my mandatory minimum. If ever motivation was needed, there was the promise of a cafe, which was defying the lockdown. More importantly for me, it offered a proper toilet, toilet paper, cleaning facilities, as well as, of course, food and drink. I said that if I got there, I’d use their Wi-Fi, assuming they had some, to let her know that I’d made it.

I got there. It was closed. So I’m at mile 152.6 - having done my daily mandatory minimum for the first time. I also celebrated passing the 150 mile mark, which means only 2,500 to go!

Set up camp next to another PCT hiker who is quitting tomorrow. He brings news of the latest weather front: snow is on its way, and a lot of it. That means that mile 169 - 179 is impassable at present and not worth risking, especially after 'Microsoft', a 22 year-old experienced hiker, died up there last week, and three PCT hikers had to be rescued. I’m loving the hiking a lot, the dying prospect I’m not so enthralled by.

This leaves me with a conundrum: I’m 15 miles from the trail head that will take me to Idyllwild. Will I be able to do another 15 miles tomorrow in one go? Or, do I hang out and wait for Panic Noodles at the cafe, and spend a second night on the mountain? I suspect my butt will make the ultimate decision.

Day 19

In the middle of the night, felt an overwhelming urge to look at the map and realised if I was going to skip the dodgy part, I needed to get off trail now.

Thus, this morning I hiked back two miles only to be greeted by Hot Cheeks - who heard Panic Noodles and I were in the vicinity. She's unquit!

So here I am holed up in Idyllwild, sitting out a four-day snowstorm. It's an absolutely gorgeous place to be stranded in for a few days. Except for the two earth tremors we had - wasn't expecting that.

I'd hoped my gear would have arrived - I'd paid for it to be expressed. Unfortunately, it's another three weeks away. Such is life in lockdown, I suppose. Thus, no spare socks, no new shoes, no new water filtration system and no battery back up. But I have got my emergency beacon - a ridiculously expensive bit of kit I hope never to use. On the plus, I have had my clothes laundered, and I've scrubbed myself from head to toe. I'm fit for humanity again.

In a day or two, or possibly four as we've just heard a big storm is incoming, we're going to re-join at mile 209, and come back and do this part later in the year. It's unavoidable but as we can't buy the necessary equipment, and the risk of serious injury is high, I'd rather get on and do the bits I can do.

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