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The Desert


The High Sierras

Day 21

The continuation of Deep Creek Canyon this morning was not a disappointment. The previous part had been covered with vegetation, but this started to change, the plants becoming more low-grown, providing an overall cleaner, less chaotic look to the landscape. Every once in a while a small creek came running down the side of the mountain, accompanied by a thick belt of green bushes. After four miles I came upon the hot springs that can be found just next to the trail, and I stopped for a quick dip. Even though the temperature in the air was already quite warm, the hot water was extremely nice, washing off the dust of my skin that made me look ten times more tanned than I actually was.

Deep Creek Hot Springs. Highly recommended stop.

I hung out in the water talking to a German guy about the Swedish trail Kungsleden (the Kings Trail), and hiking in Europe. But after a while, I forced myself out of the nice place of relaxation and got back to the trail. I walked the rest of the canyon in three hours of total contentment, just enjoying the shifting views, listening to the fifth Harry Potter book. In the end of the canyon, it opened up into a huge plain, a large dam on my right side, the trail climbing down to the bottom and the mouth of the canyon, at the Mojave River Forks.

The trail crossing over to the other side of the canyon on the rainbow-painted bridge.

Near the mouth of the canyon, the dam seen to the right and the plains far in the distance.

The trail cut through a dense forest and I had to ford the waist-deep Grass Valley Creek. It was easy since the water was almost stagnant. A nice feeling to cool my legs off. Shortly after, I took my lunch break near the creek, underneath the trees. The ground had signs of large amounts of water passing by. It was nice to be close to the creek, as it always is in the desert. I had only done about 10 miles at this point, and was a bit behind schedule, because of my break at deep creek. So I didn't stay too long, and soon left the refuge under the trees, turning south (yes, sometimes the trail even goes south...) and starting my climb up on the side of the mountains trailing the edge of the plains.

A PCT sign, just before descending down to the Grass Valley Creek area.

The afternoon was considerably tougher, the trail pretty sandy and combined with walking uphills it was a tiresome task. The mountainside had been burnt in a recent year, the whole area with blackened stems of old bushes. Clouds rolled in and gave it all a quite post-apocalyptic feeling. After hiking alone for a long while I met Tall Paul again, and we discussed how far we wanted to go today. It seemed like both of us were aiming for around mile 326 and Silverwood Lake, a large reservoir located in between the mountains and above the plains, the water kept up with another large dam. Near the lake, the trail cut down below the dam and followed a large road for about 3/4 mile before it turned and climbed back up. At the summit, the large lake stretched out to the south of me.

Walking through the forest fire area.

Tall Paul a bit further ahead on the trail.

More dead bushes and the trail.

The spillway of Silverwood Lake.

I caught back up to Tall Paul after another mile and we camped together on a beach of the lake. I took a swim in what was probably the nastiest water on the trail. We sat on a rock near the edge of the water and ate dinner. It was a great campsite and on the opposite side of the lake, we could see lights from a campfire as the sun started to set. Happy and tired after a 22-mile day, the longest I had done since my knee started to hurt, I fell asleep to the sound of the waves on the beach.

Day 22

I woke with my tent lying flat on me. The wind had been picking up over the night, and on the exposed beach the tent stakes had ripped out of the loose sand and the tent itself collapsed over me.  It was very difficult trying to pack everything up with one hand and holding the tent up with the other. Finally, I managed to crawl out of my tent with everything in my pack, and packed the tent in the outer pocket before I walked up the trail and continued on, the trail going southwards along the lake.

Sun rising over Silverwood Lake.

During the first part, the trail edged along the large lake, the sun starting to rise on the other side of it. The whole area gave me a Jurassic Park vibe, with the green bushes covering the slopes down towards the water resembling a thick jungle. I crossed over between two hills and found myself with a view down into the second part of the lake with a large bay forcing the trail to turn eastward again. Dark clouds were piling up all over the mountainside in front of me, threateningly.

Clouds rolling in over the lake.

Leaving the lake the trail started to climb up through the mountains and turning northward again. I soon found myself in the middle of the clouds, everything a foggy wall obscuring everything further than 30 meters from me. The change was beautiful and gave it a mystical feeling that you just can't get in the nice California weather. The temperatures were on the colder spectrum, which was nice because of the climbing. After a solid 7.5 miles, I found a really cool break spot, a small pocket in the thick vegetation with a cave-like feeling. I had my morning coffee and chocolate brownie cliff bar.

After the lake, we got a short bit of paved road before starting the climb.

Thick clouds during the climb obscuring the views.

More clouded trail.

Tall Paul on a ridge.

The trail kept climbing for another six miles, the clouds as thick as ever. The walking felt really easy. I don't know if it was because of the cool morning air, or just my legs that started to get used to walking, but I kept increasing my pace all the way to the top. The clouds dispersed a bit on the other side of the mountain, on the way down towards interstate 15, with the famous McDonalds just 500 meters from the trail. The views down were truly amazing, the trail following a narrow ridge, with steep slopes on both sides. Maybe it was the downhill, or the cold temperature, or my increasing pace during the morning, or maybe a combination of all of them, but my knee started to hurt again. The pain kept increasing during the whole downhill, and when I was just a mile from the interstate the pain was so bad I could barely put any weight on it.

Lats bit of climb before the top.

Me on the top.

The view of the ridge going down.

The happiness of being able to walk was replaced with a sort of desperation. Lots of questions were circulating in my head, such as "can I walk anything more today?", "how far can I make it?", "will the problem be recurring throughout my hike?" and "will I have to quit the trail?". I spent three hours sitting in McDonald's, googling knee problems. It was a mentally tough time for me, but I was determined to keep trying, going at the pace my knee allowed. The rain started to fall during this time, well timed considering it had been hanging over me all day. But when it lightened up I decided to take the opportunity and left together with Ian and Megs, crossing under the interstate and heading up the next climb on the other side of the highway.

The following ~25 miles almost solely climbs, bringing me up to pine trees again. Considering the weather I wasn't very excited about the even lower temperatures a high elevation brings with it. But that was a problem for the following day. The climb up to camp was nice, talking with Ian and Megs about their work as adventure guides (I think it was). My knee pains were actually totally gone, and I felt carefully positive. After winding back and forth, crossing a couple of train tracks, walking through some cool pipe tunnels we got up to an exposed hillside with a view up the huge Lone Pine Canyon. The wind was extremely strong now and it made it hard to walk, the thoughts of us blowing of the mountain did not feel unrealistic. I managed to find a relatively sheltered spot and spent maybe an hour to stack large piles of stones on all my tent stakes. I had my dinner inside my tent, happy about the considerable size of it and felt quite nervous about the pitch, knowing it might come down at any time. It actually did come down one time, but I could quickly fix the problem and stacked a couple of extra stones on that specific stake. I fell asleep to the sound of rain picking up, my favorite sound when being inside my tent.

Day 23

The sound of rain on my tent woke me up this morning. It was coming down quite hard, and I just felt like staying in my tent the whole day. Luckily the rain subsided after about half an hour and I took the opportunity to pack up and get going. Passing half a dozen tents on my way down and up the other side of Lone Pine Canyon, it seemed like I wasn't the only one who slept in this morning. The weather was cold but with the break in the rain, it was fine. I didn't want to stay for any breakfast though, so I ate some M&Ms while walking. After passing the canyon, the trail went in large beautiful switchbacks with great views climbing up the mountainside to Upper Ytle Creek Ridge.

The rain clouds moving away, towards where I will be walking.

I passed mile 352, halfways to Kennedy Meadows, unfortunately, no marker, which was kind of a disappointment to me. I was too cold to make my own. The trail started to traverse along the side of the large ridge, climbing slowly upwards. To my right, on the north side of the ridge, I had views down back into the canyon, which actually is the San Andreas Fault, the border between the two continental plates Pacific Plate and North American Plate. I met some trail maintainers working on the section and had some beautiful new well-maintained trail after that. They also told me they had freezing temperatures during the night and woke up to snow covering their tents. I was feeling that mixed feeling of excitement and nervousness for an upcoming challenge.

View back towards where I came from, traversing the ridge.

San Andreas Fault, my campsite this morning far away in the bottom of the canyon.

Signs of snow higher up.

I took a short break to eat a combined breakfast/lunch but were soon to cold to sit still, and had to keep going. The trail crossed the ridge and new views down towards Stockton Flat and large mountains beyond appeared. I met Orange and Sarge, Orange only have orange clothes. After an hour or so of more climbing the clouds rolled in, and there were no views at all. I was now quite high in elevation and the vegetation changed to pine forest just as the ridge changed its name to Blue Ridge. It started to snow, and the temperatures were dropping quickly I could feel my previously wet clothes freeze. At the top of the climb, when the trail finally started to flatten out I was in the middle of a snowstorm. I wish I had pictures from this because it was so beautiful. I felt like I was back in Sweden during some Tuesday training in my home forest Nåsten in the middle of the winter. But my knee was starting to hurt me and it was really cold, so I had to keep pushing to get to camp and crawl into my sleeping bag.

View down into Stockton Flat.

View down into the San Andreas Fault.

Melting snow/ice on the trees.

Amazing views before the clouds rolled in again.

In the middle of the clouds, just before the big snowstorm rolled in.

It was too bad my knee hurt me because otherwise, I would have really enjoyed it. If I only would have known as I was struggling on through the storm, cold, hurting and tired, that this was the last time I had this knee problem. I finally arrived at Guffy Campground, and I immediately pitched my tent and got into my sleeping bag, too cold to cook dinner or do anything. I drifted off to sleep and woke an hour later by someone talking to me from outside my tent. It was Tall Paul. Apparently, he had also been in the camp when I got there, but I couldn't see him because of the storm. But now exiting the tent the storm was gone, replaced with clear blue skies and a beautiful snow covered campground in the middle of the forest on the top of the ridge.

The campground covered in snow.

We had a nice fire to warm us!

An hour earlier you could barely see five meters.

My tent on the snow.

Tall Paul had a fire, and Orange and Sarge had also shown up. So I joined them and ate dinner. The warmth of the fire revitalizing me. After enjoying one of the most beautiful sunsets I got back to my tent, got into my sleeping bag with all my clothes, ready for a really, really cold night. Only six miles from the road to Wrightwood, I was looking forward getting to town, get a real meal, and warm up. The desert sure can be cold!

Can you guess who this is?

Day 24

I had a terrible night. I had to listen to my audiobook to be able to take my mind off how cold I was. It's not fun to sleep cold, and I thought to myself that I need to get my warm sleeping bag sent to me for the Sierras. I stayed in my sleeping bag a bit longer than usual because of the cold, but when I finally got out, I found that the others had started a fire again. So I put my solid frozen socks and shoes on, packed up and went over to thaw myself before I head down the mountain for the last six miles to the highway. The storm was long gone, sun shining, with views of Mt Baldy and Mt Baden-Powell to the south and the vast desert in the north. I was reminded of a beautiful sunny winter morning, a small layer of snow still on the ground, the temperatures below freezing.

New snow on the trail this morning.

It was easy hiking, slightly downhill and I soon regained the warmth in my body. The trail crossed a ski area, signs of the ski slopes towering high above me without the 2-meter snow layer that was lacking to put me at their level. Getting some alpine-skiing vibes was a nice change of scenery and made me a bit nostalgic about an excellent ski trip I had done earlier that year. Orange and Tall Paul caught up to me, and we hiked the rest of the way down to the road together. We got a hitch into Wrightwood almost instantly and went straight to the Evergreen Caffe to get some breakfast. Eating real food is my favorite part of town, shortly followed by taking a shower. I bought food for the upcoming stretch and to mail in two packages, one to Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce and one to Hiker Town. More about those places when I get there. Me and Tall Paul split a pretty expensive room. In the evening we got a pizza and met a German couple (I can only remember the name of the guy, Christian).

At the parking of the highway.

Day 25

Last preparations, I went to the post office to send my food boxes and met Ian and Megs, they were thinking about skipping Mt Baden-Powell and doing the alternate that goes longer but lower around. Back outside I met Chelsea and Tricia and hung out with them for a while until I spotted a group of hikers being picked up by a car. I said goodbye to the girls and went and got myself a ride back to the trail. Back out, the clock was already running towards the afternoon, and I only planned to make the five miles to the bottom of Mt Baden-Powel, starting with the excellent climb up the mountain the following day. The hiking was flat, winding through pine forest, paralleling the highway. Fantastic views towards the south showed a massive bed of clouds covering everything below 7000 feet as far as my eyes could see. After 4 miles the trail started to descend, straight down into the clouds, and for a while, I walked through a misty wonderland. I crossed highway 2 again and after a short climb got off the trail and found a sweet flat spot in on the mountainside. Camping alone for the first time on the trail!

Clouds as far as the eye can see.

Views down to highway 2.

Mist in the forest.

Day 26

The climb this morning was long. 36 switchbacks up Mt Baden-Powell. I wasn't walking my fastest pace, enjoying the views and taking photos basically every switchback. Near to the top I hit snow, patches of it, not terrible to walk on, but something that slowed me down even more.

Views on my way up Baden-Powell

The trail switchbacking up the mountain.

Higher up there were some snow.

At the end of the switchbacks, the trail flattened out onto a ridge going the last bit towards the top. To the north, fantastic views now appeared down onto miles of cloud covering the landscape 500 meters below me. The last bit to the top was amazing. I remember the feeling that was bubbling inside of me. I could feel all sorts of reward hormones pumping out into my brain by the chemical reward systems in my body,  elevating my feelings. Close to the top, the trail turned and follows the western ridge down the mountain. But before continuing, I headed up the side trail to the peak. I think my words should end here and I'll just show you the pictures.

Amazing cloudy landscape mixed with mountains.

The view back towards the ridge I walked up and below is the desert in the north.

Down the ridge, the trail switched back and forth, sometimes passing snow patches. The cloud mat below me on the southern side, and the desert on the northern. A view you could never get tired of. I got to Little Jimmy Spring and got water for the rest of the day. I had only done about 10 miles at this point and it was already far into the afternoon, I was getting stressed about my mileage. After filling up I kept going, still descending down towards and finally crossing highway 2. The trail made a sharp climb and winded around a mountainside followed by again descending down to highway 2, just a couple of miles later. The trail going mainly through pine forest, switchbacking around cliffs and large rocks. The views now down into a new valley covered with pine trees, and on the sides steep cliffs, with cool rock formations.

Walking down the ridge, with a view to the desert in the north.

The clouds never stopped amaze me this day.

Getting water.

Crossing the highway in the middle of the clouds.

After crossing the highway I walked on a small ridge with the sun setting over the mat of clouds that had been with me all day. I decided to stop shortly after. Only a 15-mile day, not as long as I had wanted, but I was determined to get up earlier the following day and make a longer day. Jasper, a German guy rolled into camp after a while and we ate dinner together. The candy I had bought in Wrightwood was really bad. It tasted like toothpaste. So I tried to get rid of it by giving everyone who passed. Lots of people wanted to do a couple of miles more to a campground. I was happy here, on the top of a ridge with the sun setting over a massive bed of clouds beneath me.

Day 27

After the previous slow day, I was eager to get up early and go faster. It started out with a road-walk on highway 2 around a closed 2-mile section of the trail. It's to protect the mountain yellow-legged frog, an endangered species. The road walk wasn't too bad. There was no traffic during the morning, and the road winded through the beautiful mountainous area. After the 3.5 miles of road, the trail turned down through a campground and continued through a canyon, back almost parallel to the road that I had just been walking on. The PCT continued down through the bottom of the valley with a nice stream to keep me company for a while.

Road walking during the morning.

A stream coming down from a small canyon.

The terrain became less dramatic, going through pine forests with an increasingly sandy ground, as always when you are descending. Nothing special happened for a while, I crossed the highway again 2 times and found the 400-mile marker, only 100 miles to the 500 one! I enjoyed hiking in the pine forest with nice shade and something new around every turn, rock formations, cool trees and a cabin at Camp Glenwood, a Boy Scout Camp. I crossed the highway two more times and at the last, I decided to eat lunch at some picknick tables. I met a couple of people, Texas Blue and Charlie Brown were two of them, cool guys I hiked around this last stretch of the desert.

An occasional view over the pine forests.

Camp Glenwood, a cool cabin right on trail.

I left the highway for the last time and the trail now turned north away towards the northern parts of the mountains and the edge down into the huge desert. Quite immediately the trail changed dramatically into the traditional deserty low growing shrubs and cacti. There were also lots of poodle dog bush, a plant that smells like weed and you definitely don't want to touch, unless you want a bad rash. The further into the afternoon I got, the more mountainous the trail became. I meant to stop at 20 miles, but there was no water in the spring at the camp, so I pushed 3 more miles, becoming very hungry. In camp I hung out with the German couple I had met back in the car going into Big Bear. To the north of our small camp, the desert was again visible the sun basking it in its red glow. A good day, and no knee pain!

Flatter section during the afternoon. But even the flat sections have switchbacks on the PCT :)

The edge of the mountain range and the huge desert can be seen in the distance.

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