Day 5, miles 0101 to 0127, Barrel Springs to Mike Herrera’s
Distance traveled; 24.8 miles, travel time; 7:42, elevation min/max; 2905/5255, total ascent/descent; 4605/3012
What a glorious morning! Three or four miles before Barrel Springs the cactus and scrub brush gives way to knee high grasses and scattered oak trees as the hills flatten out into a pastoral plain. From this transitional area and on across the historic Warner Springs Ranch is, in my opinion, the most beautiful 15 miles of the Southern California PCT. Low hills rim the grassy savannah, which is in turn punctuated by nearly white rock outcroppings.
Photographic opportunities, frequent watering spots in clear flowing streams and stopping to nibble on the plentiful grass made for a leisurely amble in the morning sun, without much effort being expended. This valley was inhabited first by the Cupeño people who left many artifacts including this huge pestle type grind stone which is right alongside the PCT.
The most famous of the rock outcroppings is Eagle Rock. From the trail it looks like just another rock pile, but go off trail around the east side and you see a stunning landscape that one strains to accept was made by nature and not man. Eagle Rock can be visited via a mild 6 mile in and out hike from the trailhead near Warner Springs School. Easter Morning visitors to Eagle Rock created southbound traffic on the PCT. A phenomenon Mercedes wasn’t entirely sure about. Each of the oncoming hikers received a cheery “Good Morning” from me as well as a snort and a blow from Mercedes.
Shortly after leaving Eagle Rock I passed IO again. It is starting to warm up and we both have miles to make so conversation is brief, she does take a picture of Mercedes and I though, one of the many hiker requests on our journey.
Leaving Warner Springs I rode up Agua Caliente Creek for another five miles. The trail crosses the creek several times staying in the welcome shade of trees. The trail then turns up yet another mountain or ridge or, as I’m starting to favor, a big pile of boulders and twelve hot, dry miles of rocky trail to our crossing of Chihuahua Valley Rd.
Janis is adamant that Road is a misnomer, as would be Jeep Track or even what they refer to here in the desert as a “Truck Trail”. The last few miles on Chihuahua Valley Rd. could not be traveled at more than 5mph; BG felt that even that speed was excessive. Our camp spot was at a recreational property owned by Mike Herrera, occupied by caretaker Josh and his assistant Scott. Legend has it Mike was a thru hiker some years ago who once having completed his hike came back and bought this remote property ¼ mile from the PCT. Whether the house and water tanks were there already or Mike had them built is unclear. What is definite is that Mike provides the only reliable water for 12 miles either direction while the seasonal creeks still flow and 25 miles in dry times.
Besides filling and maintaining the water tanks part of Josh’s caretaking duties is to provide meals for hikers. The night we were there Josh make pizza in a huge outdoor pizza oven that Scott built some years ago. After a long day on the trail the pizza was a welcome treat. Josh also served pancakes, eggs, hash browns and coffee for breakfast. Payment for the food is on a donation basis. There is also beer on ice that is on a minimum donation per can basis. Mike’s, as you can well imagine, is a popular overnight destination. We spent a very pleasant evening, socializing with Josh & Chuck as well as with some of the hikers. Being one of the rare trail riders comes with certain notoriety, or perhaps it was the size of my donation or the bottle of quality tequila, at any rate, we were extended certain amenities not offered to the hikers. Free access to the interior of the house and garage, which surprisingly, held a ’58 T-Bird and a ’67 Eldorado – both convertibles. How they got those cars up that awful road is anybody’s guess. Josh said they were there when he got there.
Random pictures from the day:
Day 6, Miles 0127 to 0152, Mike Herrera’s to Hwy 74
Distance traveled; 23.8 miles, travel time; 7:07, elevation min/max; 3331/5610, total ascent/descent; 3796/3939
I left Mike Herrera’s yesterday morning and was able to get up on a ridge that allowed for a view of Mike’s as well as the Chihuahua Valley Road in time to watch Janis make her way back towards civilization. The road didn’t look so bad from where I was.
It was another day in the desert. Though it is only mid April it is hot. By afternoon the temperatures approach 100°, the only shade is provided by brush that is not tall enough for a horse to get under. Both the horses and I are starting to get a little acclimatized to all this sun and wind though. My first day sunburn is nearly healed. I’ve taken to wearing loose cotton shirt and a kerchief under my hat to protect the top of my head and the back of my neck while riding. I haven’t come up with a solution for the discomfort of the sun burning the tops of my thighs through my Levis, heat rash is an issue. I expose my arms and legs in the afternoon after riding in hopes of building up to a little tan protection. So far there is no chance of being confused with a local.
The hikers continue to thin out. I think that after one hundred miles that the total distance of over twenty-six hundred miles becomes much sharper in focus, it is for me anyway. I mostly see them now hunkered down under the bushes waiting out the mid day sun. Water holes and caches are popular resting spots, once in a while, near a spring, there is a tree under which the ground has been worn bare by the hundreds of bottoms of these hikers. We don’t talk much and when we do the conversation revolves around the trail, water reports, how much snow there is on Fuller Ridge. Usually they have been napping, conserving energy for their afternoon hikes can last late into the evening. Since there is no shade for the horse we continue on our way content in the knowledge that the respite of the Yurt and all that Janis provides is getting closer and our day’s journey will be done.
BG and I stopped at one such watering spot today. This one, Tule Spring, was a good half mile off and a few hundred feet below the trail. Because it was so warm and dry and we wouldn’t have another water opportunity until meeting the truck we made the extra effort to reach the spring. Tule springs has a stock tank, which was dry, fed by a large metal tank, sounded empty when I banged on it, and a seepy little spring surrounded by a mucky swamp, the kind horses sink up to their bellies in. I tried to find a way to get BG down the ravine to a pool the hikers pointed out, but with out a chain saw and a couple hours of trail clearing it was a no go. I was hot, tired and defeated as I climbed out of the ravine to the road that would lead me back to the trail where I saw a hiker casually filling his water bottles from a hose that had been laying in the weeds near the stock tank. I had erronously assumed that it was as dry as the trough and tank had been. I filled the collapsible bucket with joy in my heart, offered the water to BG who took one sniff of the water and refused to drink, stood there for awhile in case she changed her mind, she didn’t, poured the water over my head so as not to waste it, mounted up and rode off thinking “damn horses, I don’t even like horses!”
I’m not a big fan of sage brush riding, after six days I’m ready for a change of scenery. The sameness of the trail and the heat are not things I thought about while dreaming of this trip however they are proving to be part of the challenge, I guess if it were easy everyone would do it. Later in the day I spotted snow on the not to distant hills which leads me to think I’ll be riding in the trees soon. In the meantime I will enjoy the wildflowers that are blooming where I am. All the same it is slow going, rocky trail tread and the steady climbs to the tops of the ridges contribute to my average speed of less than 3½ miles an hour, a far cry from the 4 to 6 I was hoping for.
There is a fellow named Trent riding mustangs that started a few days before us. We met him one day before we started when he was being picked up at a trail crossing. Trent is a handsome and charming young man, tall, dark, slender and does the horseman’s image thing really well. He wears a well broken in Stetson hat, with a neckerchief tied around his tanned throat, has leather chaps over his wranglers, all in all he is a very photogenic as well as popular chap. Trent is riding to raise awareness and funds to fight Ataxia, a dreadful disease which felled his father much too early. His mission has led him to seek sponsors and publicity wherever he can find them and he spreads his message to all he meets.
Trent named his primary riding horse after his father, Gary Peterson. Gary is buckskin as is BG; Mercedes is a dark bay as is Trent’s pack horse, Minaret. News has spread up and down the trail, about Trent, via the hiker network. The whole name and color thing has created some confusion who is who and how many of us there are. Poor BG, she gets no respect. I have been greeted with “oh, this must be Gary” as they stroke BG’s nose. “No,” I reply “That is BG, I’m Gary.” Or “oh, this must be Mercedes” again as they stroke BG’s nose. I don’t mind so much, in fact I am more than a little flattered to be confused with Trent, but BG is positively feeling cranky about the whole situation.
Trent’s goal is a little different than mine. His plan is to ride from Mexico to Canada in a continuous track. As he says “I’m not married to the PCT” so where necessary he will leave the trail to bypass trail closures and ride at lower elevations where snow is still blocking the trail. My goal has been to ride the PCT in one season, I would prefer to do a linear route, but am willing to hop scotch around a bit as snow permits.
Today is what the hikers refer to as a “zero” day for Janis and I. Zero in that no trail miles are being passed. Instead we are riding in the truck to confirm meeting spots that we are having to change due to a portion of the PCT being closed as a result of a fire since we were here scouting a few years ago. The hikers are walking around the closure via Hwy 74, a narrow road with little to no shoulder and a 55 mph speed limit. We saw Trent doing the same. I have decided my version of riding the PCT doesn’t include riding blacktop and putting the horses at risk. I have no problem trailering around the closed portion of trail. Including the miles riding to and from the PCT to where I can meet the truck makes the mileage about the same as doing the trail straight through. My conscience is clear.
Meanwhile the horses are hanging out at Ribbonwood Equestrian Camp. This afternoon two friends, Rick Malone and Kent Salisbury, are coming out to meet us at camp. They plan on riding out for at least part of the next day with me. They’ve promised to bring dinner, so we mustn’t be late…
Day 7, Miles 0152 to 0166, Hwy 74 to Fobes Ranch Road
Distance traveled; 19.2 miles, travel time; 6:42, elevation min/max; 4488/7120, total ascent/descent; 3326/3765
Rick and Kent came up yesterday and cooked us a nice steak dinner then Kent made us breakfast as well. After breakfast we all trailered back to the PCT crossing of Hwy 74 where I had left off the day before to pick up the trail again. This is also the point where my ill fated 2000 trip ended, from here on it’s new trail for me. What I had been told was a nasty, rocky piece of trail turned out to be some of the best riding I’ve had on this trip. We rode up an oak covered ridge overlooking some picturesque ranchettes.
As we climbed higher we started picking our way through a huge boulder field. Some of the boulders appear to be precariously perched above the trail. Delicately balanced and/or gravity defying, some the size of a house, certainly all of them weighing many tons, they remind us of how insignificant we really are. I hold my breath as we pass; less they come crashing down at any minute.
It was nice to have the company of Rick and Kent; Mercedes appreciated the moral support from Candy and Scout. We started at about 5000 feet in elevations and climbed to over 6000 to the intersection of Live Oak Springs trail where we parted ways. Kent and Rick returning to their trucks, Mercedes, not so happily as before, carrying me ever northward.
After we parted ways the trail deteriorated quickly, turning into the rocky steep track I had been warned of. The trail continued to climb following the top of the ridge, to my right, the east, views of the desert and I-10 corridor. To my left the dark greens and blues of Lake Hemet and the San Bernadino Forest. We eventually topped out at over 7000 feet after which the trail dropped steeply for a mile reaching at time a 39% grade until we reached the point after which the PCT is closed due to landslides. Many of the hikers skip this portion, from Hwy 74, due to the closure. It is a pretty gentle grade through the Fobes Ranch, though due possibly to lack of use at times it became difficult to determine which of the branching trails would lead us to where Janis, BG and Rose waited. We managed to make the right guesses at the trail intersections and reached the Fobes Ranch Rd in due course. A little over 3 miles down the road brought us nearly to Hwy 74 and to the night’s camp.
Hiker Count; Hikers passed has steadily dropped since we started. Over 50 the first couple of days, then gradually and steadily dropping down to nineteen on Day 6. Today there were ten total. I suppose some of that can be accounted for by people hitch hiking from Hwy 74 around today’s section and the closed portion to Idyllwild, where they rejoin the trail.
Day 8, Miles 0191 to 0211, Black Mountain Rd to Cabazon
Distance traveled; 27.2 miles, travel time; 6:51, elevation min/max; 1238/7633, total ascent/descent; 3129/6802
It was a tough day today. We trailered around the trail closure and unloaded BG alongside the highway at the base of Black Mountain Road. Initially we thought to trailer up to where the PCT crosses Black Mountain Rd. The road proved to have too much run-off damage. The truck could have made it, indeed a couple of cars passed me on my way up. The horses though would have been tossed about even though top speed would have been four or five mph. Seven miles up, seven miles down, we thought I could ride it faster with less stress on the horses. BG made the 2500 ft in seven miles climb in less than two hours. Despite the fact we were riding up a hard packed dirt road this part of our day was pretty pleasant. We had lots of shade in the mixed hardwood and pine forest and even a trickle of water for BG a little over half way up.
I saw two hikers that had huge packs on. I mean huge, they extended down to the backs of their knees, a foot over their heads and at least a foot out on either side of them, as well as being a good foot thick. I had to find out what that was about, turned out they were boulder hoppers and the packs were foam pads. They climb, jump and in general scamper about the big boulders in the area; if they slip and fall they try to land on the thick pads. And people say I’m nuts.
Once we connected with the trail our path took a decided down turn, losing 6000 feet in the next 15 miles. For the most part I could see the evening camp about five miles away as we zig zagged our way down. The first few miles were still in the timber, where I saw my first Sequoia of the trip. This side of the mountain was mostly pine and fir. Some of them had pretty substantial size. The first Sequoia was at least five feet through and several of the fir and pine were pushing 36 inches. None of them were over 50 feet tall though due to the tops being broken out, whether from snow, wind or lightning I couldn’t guess.
I got to noticing overhanging boulders without apparent means of support again today. Then I got to noticing how many boulders had fallen in such a way the trail had to be rerouted around them. Then I got to imagining how many ways a falling boulder could create a catastrophe. In the picture the trail is on the right side passing under the rock that has broken away from the larger boulder. I was able to ride under the broken piece without ducking. Then I got to thinking about all the boulders we were going over that had no visible means of support. Then I saw boulders I was about to ride over that fit the previous criteria. Then I decided, “Not much I can do about it anyway”. There is an old Norse saying, “The length of my life and the day of my death were fated long ago.”
The next 10 miles of downhill seemed more like 25. Out in the open sun, hot, thirsty, plod, plod, plod. After an interminable amount of time we reached a water source, a drinking fountain, about 5 miles from camp. The valve and nozzle were about four feet in the air at the end of a half inch water pipe. Holding the spring loaded valve handle open created a stream of water that arced about eight inches over the nozzle and that much again to the side. Trying to hold the valve open, hold a collapsible bucket open and catch a stream of water that is being blown to and fro by the wind was a challenge. In addition, at water fountain speed trying to get enough water in the bucket for a thirsty horse is a slow process at best.
Add to that, BG can smell the water and keeps trying to get her nose into the action, spilling what little water I have gathered, only makes things worse. At this point I’m thinking a hitch rail would be a good addition, but there is absolutely no where to tie BG out of the way. Trying to get BG to drink straight from the fountain was a miserable failure. For a horse that will shove her head eye deep in a water trough and blow bubble, a horse that will lay down in a mountain lake, roll over on her back with her neck and head extended on the bottom, she is remarkably averse to getting and water on her nose from the pathetic trickle of a water fountain.
There was a bowl there for people to water their dogs, I tried filling it then dumping it into BG’s buckets, and again her head in the way wasted more water than we saved. The bowl was barely big enough for BG to get her nose in, but get it in she did, which forced about half the water out of the bowl and onto the ground, leaving maybe a cup or two for her. It took a while to get five gallons into her.
The last five miles was down a sandy wash, still 90 degrees plus, still in the direct sun, so now poor BG would sink to her fetlocks in loose sand with every step. I thought BG might be unnerved by the wind mills we rode by, but we didn’t get to them until late in the day and by then she just didn’t care. We were both very happy to reach the truck.
Camp itself was located in an abandoned housing development. It was a little bit creepy, wide avenues and cul de sacs carved out of the desert floor. The heat and wind were inescapable, but by moving our chairs around under the nose of the trailer we were able to hide in the shade from the burning rays of the sun. A cold beer pulled from an ice filled cooler is a little bit of heaven.
Comments from the side lines, Chapter 1. By Janis Pegg
Crewing is something I learned a little about on the XP ride. Gary and I had the best crew for that adventure, our neighbor Searl Stevens. I saw what worked and what didn’t and with that knowledge, I felt I could successfully crew for Gary riding the PCT. Preparing involved mapping truck routes, feed stores, laundries, and water resupply opportunities. We were years in the preparation and the start seemed out of reach until suddenly, it was time to go. We drove to the PCT Southern Terminus in 2 days, 1200 miles. LA and San Diego traffic – uffdah – Seattle and Portland don’t compare.
After taking one day off to let the horses rest, Gary was on Mercedes and headed down the trail. I loaded BG and started my drive to Boulder Oaks campground. On the way I planned to stop and fuel up and buy ice. I pulled in the station and noticed all the pumps on the left were labeled Diesel with lots of room. I ran my CC, lifted the pump and topped off the half full tank. I wanted a receipt and went in to ask the attendant for one; he informed me I had just filled my truck with red dye. I did not know what he was talking about, the pump handle was green and was labeled diesel. It was almost a “listen buddy” moment. Apparently the pump was labeled Diesel but in smaller print, Red Dye. I was concerned that it would ruin my truck but I was assured it would be fine, but if the CHP pulled my filter, I would be fined. I figured the chances of that happening were slim so drove off a little wiser about small town gas stations.
Driving to each days campsite, setting up, preparing for the horse and rider coming in, helping feed, water and clean the horse up and then fixing something for dinner has become routine. I was surprisingly sore the first few weeks, using muscles I have not used in some time. Rose (1 yr old Border Collie) and I have picked up numerous hikers along the road or at a trailhead, needing a ride into town. They are amazed when I open the trailer and have them throw their gear in. Not having seen a horse trailer with a bed, fridge, oven, etc. Often I end up with 4 hikers, 3 in the back seat with Rose in someone’s lap and one in the front. They are full of life and thrilled to have gotten a ride. One group of girls took dozens of pictures of Rose, each posing with her in the back seat. Many of the hikers are foreign and here for the first time, speaking the language just well enough to get by.
I met one woman hiking with a large heavy coated German Shephard. They stopped at a trailhead to rest during the mid day heat. Later that evening, she and her dog walked into the next trailhead where we had driven to camp as they had corrals there… she asked if anybody was going in to town. I looked around and as there were no other cars there but me, I said I could give her a ride and did she need help? She said she fell earlier and hurt her ankle. She was sunburned, hiking in a tank top, not in any shape to be hiking that far, and her dog looked all in. I unhooked the trailer and told Gary I would be right back. She and her dog got in and I drove them to Julian… I told her I would wait with the dog while she checked with the local motel to see if they had room for both of them. She got out of the truck and as she walked toward the office, that massive German Shephard let out the most mournful howl… hahaha – I told him it’d be okay but he did not take his eyes off her the entire time she was gone. They did let her and her dog stay there.
Resupplying has been fairly easy… getting water in one town was harder than it should have been but Gary suggested an RV place and that worked out great. I used the GPS to find a local market and arrived to find a perfect place to park but it was a Mexican market. I hoped they had what I needed but alas, no apples, lots of unfamiliar foods in the produce section and in the rest of the store. I got a few things and chalked up another “strike” for the GPS, which has led me astray more than a few times; a surprising number of “highways” in California are not laid out for a truck and trailer so you can imagine what the “shortcuts” are like. Oi Vey
Most of the camp sites we chose in advance have been easy to get to but a few were long, slow hair raising drives. These “roads” are just not quite the same with the 2 horse GN trailer following behind. In one particular spot, I stopped at a wide spot in the dirt road, turned the truck off, called Rose and started walking the next ½ mile to make certain I could get to my destination. Two 12% grades later and a few tight turns and we made it. It is always such a feeling of relief to arrive with all intact. One place we stumbled on by accident was a boarding stable run by a nice woman who reminded both Gary and I of our PNER friend, Darlene Anderson… she could have been a twin sister. Another was a couple who let us stay at their ranch for a night, Ray and Janet Drasher, who were wonderful people. Rose loved their dog Heidi, running and playing for hours with her.
So far we’ve met quite a few people we exchanged information with and hope to stay in touch after the ride. Some were hikers just passing through, sharing stories and enjoying the day . All have been friendly and all love Rose, especially the hikers who left their dogs home and miss them. I have found some very interesting rocks ( Judy Walker!) while waiting for Gary – we have them stashed all over the place! I am reminded of that movie, the Long Long Trailer with Lucile Ball. Oh, and I wanted to thank Kent Salisbury’s wife for the very delicious Carrot Cake !! I was very sorry we forgot to take the left overs with us !! It was a hasty departure that morning, so hasty that Rick drove off with his trailer door open… Kent honked and honked and when Rick pulled over Kent informed him that he’d left his door open. I pointed out that Kent had driven off with his camper door open – next time I won’t rush them J