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The Desert

The High Sierras

Day 13

This was the downhill day of the downhill days. Descending 1800 meters straight down into the desert, long switchbacks extending the length of the trail from 4.5 miles (as the crow flies), to 15 miles! It started out pretty good, easy downhill, I walked pretty fast feeling good despite the tough day before. The trail left the pine trees and was replaced by the desert vegetation i'd gotten used to. With its amazing desert views.

View down in the desert valley, and up on the other side to San Gorgonio.

Not long after, I started to feel a stabbing sensation on the right side of my right kneecap. At first, it was only a small annoying feeling, not really associated with pain, and I took a break and ate some m&ms. But the further down I got, the more weight I started to put on my left leg to keep away that feeling of increasing pain pulsating when bending my right knee.

Down into the desert, with mountain ridges cutting through the landscape.

Not only the vegetation changed going down into the desert.

I met a woman in her 50-60s, she had done the PCT last year but had been forced to quit, just 200 miles short of Canada, because the conditions were getting too harsh. So she was doing another attempt hoping to go all the way this year. I was very impressed when she talked about the Sierras, which she had entered very early the year before and went through the high snow conditions.

Views back up to San Jacinto peak where i were yesterday.

Shortly after I hit the 200-mile marker. And shortly after that, I hit the official 200-mile marker. The trail change, and measuring precision does too, so most of the official markers can't be found at the actual distance they should be at. I saw another rattlesnake, but it just slithered away as soon as it saw me, rattling all the while. The pain in my knee was increasing for every mile I got down the hill. And the last three miles I really struggled and had to take several breaks just to stretch and regaining myself a bit. I saw another rattler just one mile before the bottom, just as Sante and Megan caught up with me.

Mile 200, the real marker and the official.

Taking a break trying to save my knee.

Traversing down on the switchbacks.

Rattle!

At the bottom, there was a water spigot and a large rock that provided some nice shade. I decided to call it a day, to rest my knee and hoping that I would feel restored the day after. Megan and Hefty, already there also decided to make it a short one. So we all hung out for the afternoon and enjoyed the shade of the large rock. A bit later Calvin, a really nice guy, showed up and we all pitched our tents. As we ate dinner and the sun was setting, the wind also started to pick up. It was a very beautiful evening, the sky glowing in all sorts of colors.

Sante, Hefty and Megan (behind the lady I talked to earlier).

Hefty and Megan enjoying the sunset.

Suddenly, with a huge gust of wind, we see Calvins tent struggling to keep a hold of the ground, but giving away it is thrown into the air, 10 meters up. And then bouncing down, spinning, soaring up the desert valley. We all start running at our top speed. But we soon lose sight of the tent over a small knoll. Spreading out we're looking for it, and after a while, we find it approximately 400 meters up the valley, stuck in a creek coming down from the mountains. One of the poles had broken, and there was a large tear in the flysheet. We did our best to repair it. Calvin planned to go into town the following day to replace it.

Calvins tent is still standing (closest tent), my tent is difficult to see, it's not the orange one.

The sun has almost gone down.

The winds were really high when I went to sleep, and I was hoping my rock piles would hold the tent up during the night. I had difficulties falling asleep with the wind ripping in the tent with an almost deafening sound. In the end, I put my headphones in and cranked up the volume to drown out the sound of my surroundings. And I fell asleep, hoping that the day tomorrow would bring something good.

Day 14

I hit a new record for waking up early and was out of camp around 5.00 while it was still dark. From the water spigot, the trail followed a small road down through the valley. It was quite pleasant, nice and cool in the morning. I was happy I didn't do this stretch in the day, I could just imagine the grueling heat out on the open desert plain, walking on a paved road. After a small downhill, and walking past some houses, the trail continued, off the road onto the open desert, down towards interstate 10, located in the bottom of the valley.

Sunrise during the first miles.

My knee was feeling fine so far, and I felt positive about the day. The sun started to rise and the twinkling lights from the windmills far in the distance were exchanged with a golden blue sky as the sun started to rise. I passed underneath huge powerlines, and for a while, the trail was actually a bit hard to follow because of (i was guessing) the water that had washed through a month earlier or so when the spring floods from San Jacinto came through. Around this time, I started to feel that stabbing feeling in my knee again. But since I was pretty close to the interstate, I didn't have to go too far before I could take a break.

Just before interstate 10, here's the train tracks running along the road.

A break with a beer as it turned out. Underneath the road, there was some trail magic in a cooler. At 6.48 this was my earliest beer on the trail. Megan showed up not long after and we enjoyed our beers and hung out for a bit. On the other side of the interstate, the trail followed the edge of a small neighborhood and turned around to start climbing up into a small canyon. I had hoped my knee would feel better after the small break, but almost instantly the stabbing feeling was back, and I was struggling a lot during the upcoming five miles of uphill. I had to take several breaks to stretch and rest, and the following downhill into the next canyon wasn't exactly better.

Beer-magic!

Megan at the trail magic under the interstate.

Looking back towards San Jacinto after the interstate.

Entering the small canyon

At the top of the climb.

The trail snaked its way along the side of the canyon, with a green band of trees in the bottom, where water was trickling down in a small creek, and marking the border of the San Gorgonio wilderness. The canyon was cut out with large gullies, the trail following along the side and then continuing in large switchbacks down into the larger valley where the Whitewater River was coming down from the mountains. The traces of huge amounts of snowmelt was apparent. After following the river 1.5 miles upstream I met Megan and Tall Paul and decided to have a lunch break. I took a nice swim in the stream, washing my clothes, and cooling off my knee.

Megan a bit further down the trail.

View down into the canyon.

Walking on the side of the canyon.

Looking down towards the Whitewater River.

My hope was to have a long lunch and rest my knee, so I could make it a total of 20 miles this day. Because I had been carrying too much food the first 180 miles to Idyllwild, I had rationed for this stretch. Therefore I had to make my daily average miles not to run out of food before Big Bear. However, hiker hunger also hit me during this day, and I was constantly hungry. So I was counting my miles, and going through my food, trying to ration even more so I could take easier days if it turned out my knee kept hurting me.

The lovely lunch spot.

After lunch, the trail left the valley with the Whitewater River and started climbing up the mountains with fantastic views back down towards the desert and San Jacinto. After doing some really long twists and turns it descended back down into a canyon with Mission Creek flowing in the bottom. The creek had plenty of water and, I camped just shortly after, marking the goal of 20 miles exactly. Lieutenant Dan, Hefty and Tall Paul showed up later, and we had dinner together. The campsite was beautiful, and the frogs were back! I was really happy this day was over, a big struggle. But I guess you have to struggle a bit to be able to experience this beauty!

View back towards San Jacinto.

Day 15

After rationing my food the previous day, I only needed an easy 15 miles this day. My goal was to be able to stop when my knee felt bad and getting it used to the routine of constant walking. And it turned out that this day was loads better than the previous one. I left camp, the trail searching its way up the canyon I had entered the previous day, following mission creek, up towards the mountains. The ground was wet and sometimes the trail disappeared into what was thick reed-looking vegetation. I liked the change in the trail and the variation that came with it.

Just after leaving the camp, lush an green vegetation around me.

My knee was actually doing pretty good, I had to take some shorter breaks and stretch but apart from that, I felt positive about it this day. Hefty passed me early on as I was having one of my breaks. I took a breakfast break, a little bit longer than normal this day. I had some porridge which was not so good, but also some coffee for the first time on the trail, which was really nice. And after the break, I could make it up to the lunch spot without feeling any pain in the knee at all. Almost ten miles done!

Continuing up the canyon.

The lunch break was great, I found a great group of trees, in the upper part of the canyon. I had a nice long nap in the shade and read my book for an hour, just resting and getting ready for the last five miles up the next canyon. When I felt rested and done, I left the nice oasis, leaving the canyon I've been following and climbing up into a steeper canyon, heading west up towards Mt San Gorgonio. The higher I got, the higher the vegetation, first high bushes, then trees. After about three miles the trail entered a quite newly burnt section. I had been keeping an eye on the closure during my preparations, and it opened just a month or so before I got on the trail, to my happiness.

The trail climbing up to the next canyon.

Burnt forest, blackened trees still standing, with green vegetation popping up from the ground.

I got to camp early, my knee felt good, and positive about the last two days going into Big Bear. There was this really cool water source near camp. A spring coming out of the ground at some sort of small cave, falling from the roof. I met Ian here (later known as snorkel), a super nice guy that I, unfortunately, didn't have the opportunity to hike with. He was pushing on, trying to get to Big Bear the next day. Lieutenant Dan and his friends got to camp a bit after, and we ate dinner together at the small picnic table that was located in the camp. All in all, a good day, nice and easy!

Day 16

Walking through pine forest, the sun popping out every now and then in between the trees. The air nice and cool. The terrain of the morning changed quickly as the first thing I did was leave the burnt section. At first, the views were hidden in the forest, but after an hour or so the trail left the small plateau it had been crossing and started traversing around a mountainside. The forest covering the landscape below me as far as I could see. I really loved the change you experience in the desert, from the dry small bushes to the pine forests with large trees, in such a short span of time. That's something I'm not really used to.

Morning near the camp, pine forest all around me.

Views after a while, pine forest and San Gorgonio in the background.

More views with pine forest.

I passed the 400 km marker (probably the Danish guy Metric who made it), which felt super cool! It's a strange feeling comparing my walking distance to the usual traveling by car to Öland back home in Sweden. A strange, but really good feeling, a feeling of accomplishment. Right after the marker, I saw one of the strangest things on the PCT. A mini-zoo just next to the trail with grizzlies, tigers and many more animals. I felt pretty bad for them since they were living in quite small enclosures. I think it's some company that hires out the animals for movie productions.

The valley I hiked up the previous day, the trail loops around and comes back to this view.

400 km marker! (thank you Metric (i think?))

The most bizarre view on the PCT, the mini-zoo with tigers, grizzlies and other animals.

I took a lunch break and had a nice surprise in the form of a swede showing up while I was enjoying some peanut butter wraps. It was Nic, whom I hadn't seen since before Idyllwild. We talked for a bit before he headed on again. I left shortly after, the trail now winding through the forest after leaving the mountainside a couple of miles before. It was nice hiking, even though there was a lack of views now down in the trees. The temperature was really good, and the trail going gently up and down. There was a trail magic spot with a couch and a big container. Unfortunately, no magic left, but I sat on the couch for a while and rested my tired afternoon legs. Which was really nice!

Walking through forest during the afternoon

I got to camp pretty early again, after a nice and easy 15-mile day. The knee hadn't has been hurting me at all, and I was getting a bit anxious to do a long day again. But better to play it safe and getting it used to the hiking. At this moment I was just happy I could enjoy hiking, and not feeling stressed out. Tall Paul arrived a bit after me but decided to head on and get closer to town. Nic, Scott (another guy I had met back in Idyllwild), a German woman with the trail name Flower, and Sante showed up, and we ate dinner together. The big highlight of the evening was Sante giving us coffee from his portable coffee maker, really cool thing (although a bit heavy). I fell asleep, without any disturbances during the night. But poor Sante had some animal that stole all his food that he kept outside his tent during the night. Lucky we were so close to town!

Santes awesome coffee maker!

Sante, Nic, Scott and Flower.

Day 17

The camp was located only 10 miles from the road that runs into the two towns of Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City. They are found in the bottom of a large valley on the southern edge of the large lake named as the former of the towns, in between the mountains. The lake stretching out, narrow but long, at the time of my visit surprisingly dry considering all the wetness I experienced so far in the desert. I wanted to hitch to Big Bear Lake, the larger one, because of its size. And that is, as it turned out, also what I didn't like about it.

Morning through the forest.

The morning was lovely, the trail searching its way through the forest in a steep landscape, with occasional views down into small canyons and the flat desert in the distance. After some climbing and descending followed by more climbing I took a nice breakfast break in the sun at the top of a hill. Since I was pretty early out of camp I enjoyed watching people pass me, looking a bit tired after the climb. Coffee and a bar, my new favorite breakfast!

At some points we got a nice view!

The rest of the way to the to the road was relatively flat, easy walking. My pack was really light and it was a breeze. No pain in my knee which was a fantastic feeling. When I arrived at the road loads of people was there. I met Scotty, a french guy who started the same day as me. A guy who became kind of notorious for his strength and for carrying a heavy pack, he was never afraid to add weight to it. Anyways, he was heading out again on the trail after spending a day in Big Bear Lake.

Flat trail.

Me on the trail.

Me Sante and Clocks got a hitch pretty fast, loads of cars going back and forth. And I talked to Megan who had got an Airbnb together with Express, Stats and Hefty and we joined them. Me and Sante walked three miles to get to the supermarket and get food for the upcoming stretch. The thing with Big Bear Lake is that it's really stretched out and it's hard to get around. The main street is one big construction site. When the day was over I was totally exhausted by everything. What I had been looking forward to, a nice rest day in town was not really accurate, it was really a quite stressful day. And I just wanted to go back on the trail. It was really nice to get a shower though. I mean, really, really nice!

The Airbnb, a really nice place.

day 18

This day was all about the Sierras. And I don't mean that in a way of dreaming about the upcoming magic of mountains and snow. But, rather trying to figure out what gear we needed to be able to safely pass the steep snow-covered slopes. I wanted to buy a whippet, a trekking pole combined with an ice axe. A good combination for me I was thinking since I had no experience in using neither an ice axe or a trekking pole. I ordered one and had it shipped to my friend Kalmia, who would then send it on together with a bear canister (required for the Sierras stretch) to Kennedy Meadows, the gateway into the Sierras.

Hefty and Express enjoying some shade while the others are getting mail.

For grip on my feet, I wanted to get the lightweight Khatoola K10 crampons for trail runners. Highly popular it seemed. Since they where nowhere to be found online. We all put in the order from a store, but then contacting their support we learned that they wouldn't ship until August, a bit late for us... So after lots of research I sent the question to Kalmia, and her friend Jon apparently had a pair of trail runners crampons that I could borrow, awesome. I now felt truly ready for the sierras!

The main street in Big Bear Lake. I would recommend trying out the smaller town Big Bear City, it's probably nicer for a thru-hiker.

So the day running towards the afternoon we finally got a hitch back to the trail with the owner of the local hostel. We did a nice and easy 3 miles to a small campsite. A great feeling to leave the town stress behind and be back to the tempo of the trail. I decided I would keep doing shorter days and trying to do incremental increases in the milage. So I wasn't expecting to be able to keep up with the others. But that was fine. There are always new people to meet out there. That's another thing that's so amazing by the PCT!

Back on trail, with some nice views.

Day 19

I woke late, latest so far I think. I didn't get going until around 7.30 when the others were already far gone. The sun was already beating when I did my first climb on the switchbacks up the mountain that would take me parallel to Big Bear Lake, the trail now turning westward, following the mountain range avoiding the huge desert north of me. The first 250 miles of the trail had taken me 120 miles north of the Mexican border as the crow flies. However, the following 250 miles, up to the 500-mile marker would only bring me 30 miles northwards, towards my goal of Canada. This is an example of why the trail is so much longer than the actual distance as the crow flies, and this can at times be kind of frustrating.

The trail was similar to the previous day, winding through the forest, relatively flat and with just a few views down to the large lake to the south of me. I crossed several dirt roads, where people had left water for the thirsty thru-hiker. The pack felt super heavy in contrast to the day going into Big Bear and I was struggling both mentally and physically. In part because I got behind the others, and in part, because there were no views, and I found the surroundings quite boring. I took my standard breakfast and lunch breaks which have become part of my routine at this point.

After lunch, I met Chelsea again, super excited to see her! I didn't stay long to talk to her though, but continued, the trail now entering a large burnt section and descending down into a large valley. This was again nothing special. I was never a big fan of the burnt sections, which just felt... dead. In the bottom of the valley, after switchbacking down, I decided to make camp. Is was only 15 miles for the day. But since I felt tired, and I wanted to take it easy on my knee, I didn't feel like pushing myself any further.

I remember an Australian couple Ian and Megs was there. And Texas Blue, an American guy. But they were already in their tents so I didn't really hang out with them. I remember feeling kind of lonely, and I was missing the others who now were a bit ahead of me. So I went to bed determined to get up earlier the next morning, which is always important for the whole feeling of my days. Just being able to take my time and not feeling stressed out makes a huge difference.

Day 20

The trail continued to descend this morning, following the valley I had entered the previous afternoon. The trail edging along the side, just above Holcombe Creek that was flowing in the bottom. As I got to a lower elevation, the vegetation started to become more deserty, the trees replaced by bushes and shrubs, with the desert flowers I had gotten used to. I crossed the creek twice, in a lush oasis with green trees and then left it and entered the Lower Larga Flat, the trail crossing over the plateau-like area and then descending down towards the large scar cut through the landscape that is Deep Creek Canyon. Even though there weren't a lot of views, I liked this considerably better than the previous day. It's definitely something special with the desert terrain that I now have a very nostalgic feeling towards.

The trail on the side of the gully, still loads of trees.

Vegetation shifting towards desert.

An old tree with all sorts of flying things, airplanes and bugs..

The trail flattened out over the Lower Larga Flats.

I got to Deep Creek, and at once I went down underneath the bridge that was crossing over it. I found Chelsea and the Canadian Tricia, having a lunch break and I joined them and took a swim in the creek (well maybe not a swim, but as close as you can get to one, in these creeks). Ian and Megs showed up too. It was one of the nicest lunch spots I had in the whole desert, in the shade under the bridge. Lush vegetation around me and the creek calmly flowing. Day hikers started to show up, it seemed to be a popular day recreation area. And after reading and resting for quite a while I reluctantly left the spot and climbed back up to the bridge.

The lunch spot at Deep Creek. Ian and Megs enjoying the shade.

The bridge over Deep Creek.

The trail turned due north and continued to wind on the side of the canyon I had just entered, with the sound of Deep Creek rushing in the bottom. This was my favorite part of the desert, and one of my favorite on the whole trail. Which is kind of strange, considering my obsession with views. I mean, there were views, but far from the best I had. But there was something special with the sound of water, combined with the lush trees surrounding the creek, and the constantly changing of views as the trail was winding its way through the canyon.

The trail following Deep Creek (seen in the bottom of the canyon).

A cool bird (I'm so bad at the American birds, so I couldn't tell you witch one).

Cool rock formation on the side of the trail.

I hit mile 300, and wrote in my diary "Det rullar på nu!", directly translated from Swedish this is "It's rolling on", referring to a rolling stone that just keeps picking up speed. I was really getting used to my hiking life. I ended the day five miles later with a 17.5 mile total for the day. An adequate increase from the previous day, my knee still feeling good. I was hoping to be able to do a 20-mile day the following. Well at least if I can muster enough strength to take a shorter than 2-hour lunch break :)

A new view around every corner.

Mile 300!

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