Day 13, mile 0298 to 0330, Splinters Cabin to Silverwood Lake
Distance; 30.2 miles, time; 6:40, 4.5 mph average, minimum elevation 3009, maximum elevation 4640, total ascent 3398, total descent 4473. Total miles traveled 322
Today was a 32 mile day. The trail was fairly moderate, though it was extremely narrow in places, hugging rock cliffs. At the bottom of the cliff was Deep Creek. On a hot day Deep Creek is especially inviting. Periodically along its length deep pools nestle amongst the boulders. Some of the isolated pools have small campsites providing campers with the kind of wilderness experience that makes their trip satisfying.
I caught up with Trent about three miles out of camp. For the next several miles I would ride ahead to a site I thought would make a good picture then wait for him to arrive. I wanted to get to camp before too late so we said our “see you laters” and went off at our own speeds.
About 10 miles into the ride I passed the Deep Creek Hot Springs, clothing optional. The first few pools were a ways below the trail, and well occupied by the optionals. The last pool was much closer to the trail and only being used by young men who were at least partially clothed. I took this opportunity to stop and give a closer examination. Over the years pools have been built by stacking rocks around the hot water springs. The one I stopped at was about 8X10, maybe three feet deep and located 10 feet above the creek. The water was not so hot that one could get burned, yet warm enough that a dip in the cold creek would feel good after a 20 minute soak.
Tonight we are staying at Silverwood Lake State park. The regular horse camp isn’t open yet. The Park has made a one horse camp on a dirt road that the trail crosses. Mercedes gets the one corral so she can have a good roll after her exertions today. Silverwood Lake Park is large enough to have quite a few campgrounds. In addition to the horse camp there are tent camps, RV camps and camps for boaters. Each camping area has at least one restroom/shower building. We tried two different shower houses; apparently the hot water isn’t turned on either. Water got warm for about one minute then went tepid. At eight quarters for four minutes of water, I’m thinking we were short changed, at least we were clean!
Day 14, mile 0330 to 0347, Silverwood to Swarthout Canyon
Distance 17 miles, time 4:15, 4 mph average, minimum elevation 2975, maximum elevation 4144, total ascent 2759, total descent 2508. Total miles traveled 339
BG and I left Silverwood and climbed nearly a thousand feet right off the bat. The brush was pretty thick, I had to stop and cut some small trees (big bushes?) so we could pass. The bushes here have very stiff branches; my shins are taking quite a beating as they always get the first contact. Inevitably my attention will be on keeping a branch from taking my head off, and another branch will sneak in and whack my shin, damn. One stick did get my hat, flipped it right off the side of the trail. It landed about 10 feet below the trail in a spot the trail was narrow and the ground down to my hat so steep I had to hold onto the bushes to keep from falling. Huffing and puffing I retrieved the hat, got back on BG, rode 100 feet and darned if another face slapper didn’t grab the hat and do it again.
At the top of the hill the trail crossed a road. I met a volunteer trail clearing team just leaving their truck headed down the way I’d just come from. They told me another group was coming up the hill from the other direction. Indeed, I did meet the other group, one man with a small pruning saw. I could see where he had trimmed the bushes back from the trail in several places. The rest of the day was fairly clear of brush, as we wound around, up and over more hills, working our way to Cajon Pass on I-15.
I had another first experience today. I was passed by a hiker, or perhaps trail runner would be a better description. We were going down a fairly steep section of trai,l about two miles from the next car park, when he passed us going in the opposite direction. Dressed only in running shorts and tennis shoes carrying a bottle of water in one hand he chugged right past us going up the hill. I don’t know how far up the hill he went but he really blazed past us as we neared where he was parked and was long gone before we got there.
I was briefly on the historic Route 66. It was at this point on the trail you can stop at a McDonalds and a Best Western, many hikers do. There were separate tunnels to go under I-15 and the mainline railroad tracks. The tunnel under the freeway was rather long and continuously curved; in the center you couldn’t see either end. There was enough light to see, it never got pitch black; the break from the sun was welcoming. BG and I continued a few more yards to the underpass for the railroad, this was a more standard concrete structure just a little more than head high and two sets of tracks wide. Just as we cleared the tracks a freight train came a honking and rushing past. I thought BG might be nervous but she took it in stride.
The last five miles climbed up and over the south side of the San Andreas Fault. I like riding through areas with interesting rock formations, this portion of the trail fits that bill. On the other hand when the trail is narrow, on a steep side hill and you have to cross areas of solid slabs of rock tilting towards the abyss, I get a little nervous. People talk of the Goat Rocks and North Cascades in Washington as being especially challenging it this regard. I am coming to the conclusion the northern trail has nothing on these southern California trails. I think 80% of the trail so far has been, as the endurance folk say, technical.
Tonight’s camp is little more than a dirt parking spot on the side of the gravel Swarthout Canyon Road near Lone Pine Canyon Road. At least we are off the road and near the trail. We are only a couple miles from an I-15 interchange and will celebrate the short day with a meal in a restaurant.
Day 15, mile 0347 to 0374, Swarthout Canyon to Mt BadenPowell,
Distance 25.1 miles, time 5:35, 4.5 mph average, minimum elevation 3574, maximum elevation 8461, total ascent 7878, total descent 4970. Total miles traveled 364
Today Mercedes and I traveled up hill, our biggest climb so far, we gained just short of a vertical mile. For the most part the grade was fairly gentle, 2.2% average, but steady. Starting in the desert the trail started climbing immediately. In the early morning sun the wild flowers made the hillside a carpet of color. The long shadows threw the folds of the earth into highlight, a truly lovely time of day.
As the mid-day heat drove the flowers under cover, the folds of the earth turned into just another hill to cross on a skinny trail. We crossed a big burn area for several miles; the vegetation is just starting to return. Without the vegetation landslides are numerous and wide, eliminating significant portions of the trail. Where the hillside is sand to larger gravel Mercedes had no problem crossing, much less than hikers who sometimes needed to use their hands to maintain elevation and balance. Mercedes and I would aim a little higher than where one would think the tread should be, each hoof sinking in until the surface under foot compressed enough to hold our weight, making a narrow track across the slide. Where the surface is made up of baseball sized rocks and larger it is not so easy. Rocks want to roll out from under the hooves, clattering down the mountainside, a sound that makes me tense.
I stopped at about the 15 mile mark at a spot where some scrub pines would give Mercedes a little shade to rest in while she drank the two gallons of water we had carried that far. At this point the trail is on an old dirt jeep road, labeled Acorn Drive on the maps. As we were resting a hiker, a day hiker judging from his lack of a pack, came staggering down Acorn Drive. I thought he was going to pass on by but he saw us at the last moment and stopped. He was obviously in some distress, which he confirmed. He had misjudged how much water he was going to need for the day and was now out and had been for a while. I carry two 32 ounce Gatorade bottles mixed 50/50 with water and had consumed half of one so I offered him the other. He drank that down without coming up for air and then inquired about getting more. He was a little miffed because I wasn’t inclined to give him the half bottle I had left, as I still had a long day ahead of me. I did point out the road that would take him down to a residential area that was less than three miles away, all down hill.
Up over 7500 feet we got back into some trees on the northern exposures. With the trees came unmelted snow drifts. Crossing one patch, that was a couple of pick-up lengths wide, Mercedes punched through the ice crust, sinking nearly to her belly. On the next bit of snow she broke through again. When we came to yet more snow, longer and deeper than what we had crossed up to that point, I opted to use a dirt road positioned out in the sun that paralleled the trail. It was a hot, dry day for Mercedes as well, some snow melt on the road formed a good sized puddle that provided the only water she had all day. Near the end of the day we passed a couple of full reservoirs that are maintained to fight wildfires but they are completely surrounded with tall chain link fencing liberally labeled with No Trespassing and Video Monitored signs. Both Mercedes and I were glad to reach the truck today.
I have made the decision not to ride Mt. Baden-Powell where the trail reaching 9000+ feet is still snowed in for miles. Riding the road around Baden-Powell gets you to the beginning of a long term PCT closure for the protection of yellow legged frog. Riding the road around that equals a total of 19 miles of blacktop on the busy, narrow, twisty, two lane Angeles Highway with no shoulder. The alternate is a two and a half hour trailer ride. Trailer ride wins.
Zero Day 2
When I met Janis at the end of Day 15 she told me that she had met a local man and wife, Ray and Janet Brasher, who were scouting the Mt. Baden-Powell situation for Trent. I had just about gotten Mercedes unsaddled and watered when Ray and Janet pulled up to our rig and we introduced ourselves and started talking trail. They had come to the same conclusion as I, that Mt. Baden-Powell was unreasonably dangerous at this time. Trent plans to ride the 19 miles of Hwy 2, while we plan to trailer around to where we can pick up the trail again.
Ray and Janet have graciously let us spend the night and this day off on their property. Ray is very active with the PCTA trail clearing efforts. He packs materials for some projects to where they need to be on his mules. Ray also does a lot of trail clearing in his own right. It has been my pleasure to be able to find out about actual trail conditions from someone who judges the trail with an experienced horseman’s eye. Ray’s knowledge of the trail, conditions and ongoing repair projects for hundreds of miles in either direction and his willingness to share has been invaluable. Janet has been regaling us with tales of trail riding and desert living as well.
It’s been nine days since our last zero day. A day of rest wouldn’t hurt anyone. The horses are in peak condition; their bodies require a different saddle fit now than they did when we started. Mercedes is pretty easy, being a slender horse to begin with, the muscle she has gained makes up for any fat she has lost. I will only have to switch to a little thicker pad, from a Fleeceworks’ regular half pad to their Contour model to make Mercedes saddle fit. BG’s shape change is far more dramatic. Anticipating this, from the experience we gained on the Pony Express ride, I had brought a second saddle for her with a slightly narrower tree. Both are the identical models of Keith Bryan Pathfinders and I assumed they would both fit me the same. I used mine, the wider tree, for the first week and switched to Janis’s, the narrower tree, as BG lost weight. Though they look alike, Janis’s saddle is definitely a ladies model, the second day of using it was my last, I feared becoming permanently crippled if I continued using it. Luckily, the Stonewall saddle I have been using on Mercedes will now fit BG if I eliminate all her padding except a thin wool blanket. Of all the saddles I have ever used, and there have been many, that old Stonewall is my all time favorite, so I’m a pretty happy camper.
The horses have the run of Ray and Janet’s large round pen; they are making good use of their freedom to roll at will. This afternoon we will leave for the rest of our drive back to the other side of Hwy 2. Spending the night up on the hill will allow for an early start in the morning. Mean while I have the chance to get caught up with an internet connection at hand.