Day 9, miles 211 to 241, Cabazon to Hart Bar Road
Distance traveled; 33.8 miles, travel time; 12:58, elevation min/max; 1749/8185, total ascent/descent; 9453/4432
Remind me not to complain about how tough a day was, the gods are listening. After the stress of Day 8, we had a long day scheduled for Day 9. We planned 34 miles from mile 211 to 245 with an elevation gain of more than a mile, over the San Gorgonio Mountains. The trail started out winding up through the Mesa Canyon Wind Turbine Farm. The employees of the Turbine Farm had constructed a sun shelter of sorts and had it well stocked with bottled water, a welcome respite for the hikers on these hot days. A few of the turbines had a bit of a squeal, sounded like seals on the rocks with the rhythm of geese headed north. Dropping down the other side we entered the White Water Preserve and San Gorgonio Wilderness. This is a heavily used area, with a 12 heartbeat party size limit and permits only issued via USPS. There must not be anyone checking though as I passed at least three parties of 30 or more, and more day hikers than you can shake a stick at.
Crossing the White River presented a bit of a challenge. As Mercedes and I approached we could see the water was running high, white water rapids. Though the river itself was not wide, maybe 30 feet, the river bed was a good 100 yards wide and totally covered with rocks, from baseball to small car sized. There was no clear crossing point, 20 to 30 hikers lined both sides trying to find a way across the roiling water which appeared to be quite deep as it crashed over and around some of the larger boulders. The hikers watched with interest as Mercedes picked her way down the bank to the water. The route I had chosen cut diagonally across water that ran a little smoother, hopefully indicating few boulders to slip or trip on. The water may have been smoother, even if it was a little deeper, oh how I love a long legged horse!
Once I crossed the White River we climbed over another ridge and dropped down into Mission Creek. For the next 16 miles I would follow and cross the creek many times. What a beautiful valley, the visual equal of anything in the Wyoming Rockies which it resembles. In this dry land it was a luxury to have water for Mercedes every mile or so. It was along Mission Creek that we passed our first PCTA work crew of our journey. They were busy clearing brush from the trail, working on the tread through washouts and cutting the few logs that were down. I stopped by a group that were eating lunch to express my appreciation for their efforts. One of the crew took a liking to Mercedes, enough that she shared her carrots much to Mercedes’ delight.
When I started the riding at 7:30 (yes, believe it or not, in the am) it was already warm and the temperature only increased as the day went on. Janis had checked with the Forest Service about the road she was to use to meet me. After a couple of days they called back to inform us Coons Creek Rd was closed. We made alternative plans to meet at the intersection where Coons Creek leaves Hart Bar Rd. That meant I would have to ride an additional 4 miles, but we really had no alternative. Just as the sun was starting to get a little uncomfortable, Janis put our new inReach satellite SOS/text/phone thingies to work, informing me that Hart Bar Rd was closed also. After texting back and forth establishing plan B to meet at Onyx Pass. Later, as I realized I was running out of horse and daylight with 12 miles to go, I caught up with Trent who happened to be spending the night with some local men, one of which showed me a short cut to the junction of Hwy 38 and Hart Bar Rd, saving 4 miles in length and uncalculated energy savings for Mercedes, gaiting down an abandoned road rather than scrambling over a mountain trail. The inReaches paid for themselves that ride as plan C was activated. A half hours rest, a belly full of green grass from around the creek, and Mercedes was a new girl. We reached the truck just as dusk was turning to dark.
At the trailer I was putting all the electronics on the chargers when I realized my inReach was missing. Not knowing where I lost it, we loaded the horses and drove to cell reception first thing in the morning so I could go online and check where the unit was. I should have known, sitting on the picnic table where we were looking at maps the day before with Trent. Leading us into Day 10
Day 10, Miles 241 to 252, Hart Bar Road to Onyx Pass
Distance traveled; 19.1 miles, travel time; 5:06, elevation min/max; 6747/8912, total ascent/descent; 3947/2252
I started out going backwards. BG and I went about 19 miles to gain 11. At least at five hours it was a short day. We back tracked the previous evening ride to Mission Spring Trail camp; though Trent was long gone I did recover the missing inReach from the picnic table where I had left it. Seventeen miles into the trip we went past what is marked on the map as the “Animal Cages”. The first thing I noticed was the rather flimsy looking chain link style fencing about 10 feet off and slightly above the trail. The posts supporting the fence were pipes leaning in all different angles, no top rail so the fence was kind of saggy. About 5 feet inside the perimeter fence were a series of good sized individual cages. I don’t know if they were or not, never the less it appeared as if these cages were built around an inner court, which had a really tall fence a good 16 feet. This court had trees, toys, and the sort of structures I associate with a made for free exercise for animals. I thought this arrangement would allow for a large exercise area on a rotational basis.
As I got closer the first cage held a grizzly that looked bigger than BG. He stood on all fours, not moving, though he did appear interested in our passing. The second cage held a somewhat smaller grizzly that stood on his hind legs to better see us over the top of his shelter.
At least I think they are grizzlies, pretty darned big! I guessing the top of this fellows head was a good eight feet tall. The next cage bordering the outer fence held a tiger, who grew quite agitated, dashing from one end of his enclosure around his shelter to the other end, staring intently at BG and me. I felt a bit like a mouse with a house cat though I suppose the scent of fresh horsemeat was the primary draw.
As I rode past I thought, I’ve really got to go back and get some pictures, after all BG didn’t seem upset in the least. Approaching the cages from the other direction is when BG actually saw the carnivores, turns out she was upset. I did manage to get a few pictures, quite a feat with the bad light and nervous horse.
Once we arrived at Onyx Pass Janis informed me that she had witnessed local law enforcement telling another party that they could not camp overnight there. Rather than take the chance of being evicted later on we decided to move on for the night and come back in the morning. Tonight we are camped at the Shay Horse Boarding Facility near Big Bear. Nice big outdoor runs for the horses. It is their first chance for a real roll in a few days.
Day 11 mile 0252 to 0275, Onyx Pass to Van Duesen Canyon
Distance 23.5 miles, 5:56 total time, 4 mph average, minimum elevation 6759, maximum elevation 8686, total ascent 3036, total descent 4156. Total miles traveled 267.8
I started near the day’s high point at Onyx Pass on Hwy 38. Most of the day in was spent in conifer forest and high desert the rest. At the higher elevation the trees are around 20 feet high at most, in one area the cactus was as tall as the trees. I did pass through some pretty nice Ponderosa Pine in an area of lower elevation. Overall it was pretty easy riding, no big climbs on descents. There was a lot of rock on the trail though. So much so that the trail gave the appearance of having been graveled much of the day. Small gravel, well packed made up miles of the trail with short stretches of pit run to slow us down.
There is a sub-set of humans known as trail angels. These people provide assistance to hikers out of the goodness of the hearts. Mike back at Chihuahua Rd is an example of a big time trail angel. There are people who live along the trail that invite hikers to camp on their property, people who allow hikers to water from their faucets, some go so far as to offer showers. And then there are a legion of anonymous trail angels who leave water caches along the trail. Some of these caches have been maintained so long that Halfmile lists them in his trail notes. Usually the cache is a few yards off of a road, just far enough it won’t be seen by a casual drive by. Sometimes the angel(s) pack water bottles a mile or two, though those caches are of small volume and frequently empty.
The caches are mostly very simple, anywhere from a couple of gallons to ten or more, in plastic jugs, tied to a post, tree, or bush to keep the empties from blowing away. Some are more organized, there was one near Anza in a covered kiosk, with four or five shelves each holding ten 2½ gallon water jugs. Sometimes there will be a cooler with apples, oranges or some other treat. One cache I saw today was a metal tool box with an accompanying couch. Although hikers are warned not to count on these caches some do anyway, and when one is empty they can find it hard going until the next water.
Arrastre Trail Camp is a holdover from a time when there were more equestrians on the trail. Now it has an abandoned feel, the water faucet is dry, the hitching rail falling into disrepair. An old copper bucket tarnished green with age sits on a picnic table with edges worn smooth by time. Some trail angel has packed in two gallons of water, at least a mile from the nearest road, which are the only things that give an indication of current times.
At one point I was day dreaming a bit, and wandered off trail. The off trail portion was actually kind of nice, an interesting log to go under, a bridge of dubious structural integrity, and then the trail just petered out. I back tracked to the PCT, I don’t know what I was thinking, I made a hard left turn when going straight would have kept me on track.
Out in the desert the views open up. From the ridge top I can see down to Baldwin Lake, a sister lake separated by an isthmus from Big Bear Lake. We camped on the shore of Baldwin, or what was the shore when the lake was full, now it is nearly dry after many years of drought. All the morning water spots were dry today. At the 16 mile mark we rode into another abandoned horse camp, Doble Trail Camp, where I managed, in time, to fill the collapsible bucket with the trickle of water that came from the faucet. BG was glad for the drink and acted refreshed when we moved out to do the last seven miles.
Day 12; miles 0275 to 0298, Van Duesen Canyon Rd to Splinters Cabin
Distance 23.9 miles, 4:44 time, 5 mph average, minimum elevation 4577, maximum elevation 7865, total ascent 2072, total descent 4813. Total miles traveled 291.7
Today went pretty easy, mostly a gentle down grade following Holcomb Creek. The trail started out in the big trees following the ridge north of Big Bear Lake for the first 10 miles. Then we went through a burn area, and that is where conditions started to deteriorate. The PCT up to this far is really driven by and maintained for the hiker. The tread is fairly good however the brush is really only cleared up to about seven feet from the ground. That leaves a lot of hat catchers and face slappers for the equestrian to duck. It really hasn’t been an issue until yesterday as the timber grew thicker and there were more trees over the trail to deal with.
This is a fairly low rainfall area, pine trees and grassy meadows leaning towards high desert. It is only along the creeks that willow thickets line the shore. This year has been particularly wet though and in places the creeks are running high and are using the trail to handle their overflow. There was a good half mile today where this was the case. The trail was bordered on both sides with impenetrable willow brush forcing hiker and horse alike to slosh through fetlock deep water. BG didn’t mind so much once she got started but I doubt the hikers were as unperturbed about getting their feet wet.
Going through the burn the trail is very new and hasn’t had a chance to really pack in. Occasionally a horse will punch in for a step or two, leaving a hoof sized hole, six inches deep or so, sometimes when that happens the horse will give a little stumble. Hopefully as the trail gets more use all the footprints will pack the tread eliminating these soft spots. After the burn area and going down the creek to camp it was apparent that trail clearing hadn’t happened for a while. Chest impalers and leg rippers were added to the arsenal of vegetation hazards for riders. Lots of down trees across the trail were an issue for everyone. Some we could go over, some we went around and some we had to cut out of the way. Trent was ahead of me today and I could see much evidence of his saw use, cutting hazards out of the way, I had to cut a few more as well. One log I could get over but a stray branch pierced my Levis ripping them from pocket to knee, exposing my tender flesh to the ravages of the bush for the last six miles. I hope we don’t run into much more like that as I will have to give up on this trip, I can’t afford the clothes.
This afternoon we had gotten to a section of trail that was pretty clear with good footing and BG could smell camp, she really had her march on. I could see a hiker a ways ahead and wanted to let him know that we were approaching so I shouted out “Nice Day”. I could see this was a BIG fella, a big fella in a kilt, by now we are 50 feet or so from him and he hasn’t responded so I say “How ya doin?”. Still no response, 25 feet and we are closing fast, close enough I could see his massive arms, hairy clean up under his wife beater shirt. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” I say as we get within 5 feet and I’m slamming on BG’s brakes. Still no response and I’m thinking “surely he can feel BG’s breath on the back of his neck” as she nearly knocks his rakish beret from his head. At this point, trying without much success to keep some space between his big hoop earrings and BG’s noseband, I decide to just follow until he notices us. Which he does, out of the corner of his eye while turning a tight corner on the trail. Apparently BG’s eye six inches from his is startling, judging from how far he leaped off the trail. A big, athletic fella, who can spin, jump backwards over rocks and bushes and land cattily on his feet while simultaneously pulling ear buds out. I apologize profusely for giving him a scare and he gracefully waves me off explaining he hadn’t heard me over the music, and I ride on grateful for the no harm no foul ruling.
We are camping tonight at Splinters Cabin. The original cabin was built in the 1920’s as a fishing get away, long before there was road access. All materials, concrete, pipe, lumber, furnishings, etc were brought in by pack horse. I don’t remember the builder’s name, however he named the cabin Splinters because his wife said anything he built was likely to be splinters. All that is left of the original cabin is the stone foundation walls which are about 4 feet high. The forest service built a roof supported by metal posts they call a gazebo over the walls. Put in a couple of tables and call it a picnic area. Several hikers called it home for the night.
Splinters Cabin is a popular overnight spot for hikers due to its proximity to the junction of Deep and Little Bear Creeks which is an excellent swimming hole complete with rocks to dive from. Staying in the cabin itself were six hikers; the big fella and his companions, adding Trent and I made eight, the exact number of beers in the cooler. I figured that was a sign, so we shared much to the walker’s delight. Janis and I visited for awhile but couldn’t keep pace with the youthful exuberance so we went to take care of the horses before turning in ourselves.