Day 16, Cloudburst to Mill Creek Summit, mile 0398 to 0419
Distance; 20.2 miles, time; 4:05, 4.9 mph average, minimum elevation 5001, maximum elevation 7037, total ascent 2217, total descent 4195. Total miles traveled 384
After making the decision to trailer around the black top on the Angeles Hwy I’m really glad I did. The Angeles Hwy and the Angeles Forest Hwy are magnets for sports cars and motorcycles. They are narrow two lane roads with no shoulders, though they do have frequent turn outs for slow moving vehicles. With a posted speed of 60 most corners are marked at 45 or less, and there are lots of corners. As I was getting ready to get on the trail this morning a fleet of road bikes and a pack of BMWs came screaming past. The cars in particular like to draft one another, traveling at high speed with very little space between vehicles. If that front car should ever have to slam on the brakes, say for a horse on the road, I doubt the following ones would stand a chance of avoiding a collision. From where we are camped tonight we have an excellent view of the Angeles Forest Hwy and the speeding vehicles going both directions, often crowding the center line if not on the wrong side of the road altogether.
Today BG and I left the Angeles Nat’l Forest behind. The first part of the day was forested, cool and shady. Not much wind today, a welcome relief. It was a moderately easy ride with only one good climb. We followed Alder Creek most of the way. I saw pines, cedars, oaks but no alders. The highlight of the day was passing of the 400 mile mark. Some rock stacker made a nice little monument of stones to mark the spot.
Early in the day the trail crossed the Angeles Hwy several times. At one crossing I stopped to use the restroom. Outside there were two big dumpsters for garbage. The head scratcher was; the lids were locked closed to keep the bears out. With no means to get their garbage inside, people have been leaving their garbage outside the dumpsters, where the bears have their way with it.
Once out of the forest we were immediately back in high desert kind of territory. Hot, dry, brushy kind of country. We aren’t in the Mojave yet but we can see it coming. We are kind of skirting around the edges, I now the trail crosses it at some point however I am perfectly willing to delay the crossing a few days. We crossed a tiny stream seven miles into our day that BG refused, as is her nature, won’t drink until we have ten miles or more under our belts. At 21 miles with no water she was elated to see the buckets under the hose back at the trailer, the first bucket goes in a single gulp, the second she takes her time to enjoy, slurping and blowing bubbles.
We are camped at the Mill Creek Summit Fire Station tonight. Three elevations have been terraced out of the hillside, the lower flat spot, a picnic area, is down by the highway. The middle terrace is where the fire station, maintenance buildings and equipment yards are located. The highest elevation has a large blacktop parking lot with curbs around the edges such as you might find at a roadside rest area. On one side of this parking area is a single vault toilet outside of which there is a water spigot. This is where the PCT Water Report directs hikers for water. This is also where the fireman on duty when Janis arrived directed her to park. Hardly ideal for a horse, the blacktop is scorching hot but by parallel parking alongside the curb she was able to tie Mercedes to the trailer and yet keep her off the pavement. After a short time there the Fire Chief walked up the hill and invited Janis to move to another spot, this one located on a dirt surface just behind the fire station at the back of their equipment yard, a much more horse friendly location. The Fire Chief also informed Janis that after several years the Mt. Gleason trail closure was lifted yesterday. So instead of having to trailer around the next 25 miles of trail from here at Mill Creek Summit I get to ride to Soledad Canyon tomorrow. Unless there are more closures in the future, I should be able to avoid skipping any more trail. Well, except the five miles through Agua Dulce, black top, 55 mph, no shoulders, not my cup of tea.
Day 17, mile 0419 to 0444, Mill Creek Summit to Soledad Canyon Rd
Distance; 26.7 miles, time; 6:20, 4.2 mph average, minimum elevation 2262, maximum elevation 6370, total ascent 3797, total descent 6520. Total miles traveled 411
I woke up to the steady whine of the commuters heading for work over Nuremburg West. I had to put shoes on Mercedes as I didn’t think the hinds would hold up another day. I’d have done it yesterday but it is just too hot in the afternoons for me to do much. BG got her new shoes the day before yesterday while we were camped at Cloudburst. Though it was my intention to get going and get over Mt. Gleason before it got hot, I failed miserably. First I took the wrong inReach, Janis caught my error and called me back, add one mile. Then I noticed some of the extra water I was carrying for Mercedes had fallen off, add mile two. And then the clip holding another water bottle broke and I had to go back and pick it up, add another half mile, and now we can leave camp.
The trail from Mill Creek Summit had been closed due to extensive damage from the Mountain Fire for several years when it opened last summer, only to be closed again shortly thereafter due to the Sand Fire. Goggle Earth showed a landscape so burnt you could almost smell the ash. We thought it would be a trailer ride around the 25 miles to Soledad Canyon. When we were at Ray and Janet’s, Ray checked on his projects list and found the trail work was completed and the trail was opened the day before we got there.
I was kind of dreading the ride over Mt. Gleason. I expected a long hot dry ride through the burns. I was pleasantly surprised when after a couple of miles the trail wound its way through areas that were untouched by the fires. What a beautiful ride through the oaks and pines, with lush grass growing on the hillside. In the areas burned seven years ago the vegetation is making a comeback. The Oaks are regenerating from the roots of the old trees, and are bushy from waist high to over my head when on Mercedes. Pine trees from teeny seedlings to 24 inch high trees are springing up all around.
Not much water on the trail today. Mercedes carried two gallons for herself, which she drank about half way to the first dependable water at mile 0428. Two and a half miles later a seasonal creek still had a trickle running into a pool where she was able to drink to her contentment. The reliable water at mile 428 turned out to be dry.
The next water reportedly was at mile 436 ten long hot miles from her last drink. Arriving at 436, we found the decommissioned Santa Clara Divide Fire Station, no water at the spigot, but did see three 5 gallon water cooler bottles set out on a picnic table for hikers. I was just about to say a prayer for forgiveness and raid the cache for Mercedes when I heard a voice call “I’ll bring you a bucket of water for your horse”. There was a caretaker in one of the residences who had been called by Linda, the captain of the fire house at Mill Creek, and told to be expecting us. Boy did he make Mercedes day, she polished of the first bucket in no time and made pretty good headway on the second before coming up for air. Once again, thank you Linda.
This whole ride has been one of contrasts. Two areas that were untouched by fire even though the fires burned close were the Messenger Flats Campground and Santa Clara station had corrals for horses and plenty of grass, though the water spigots were all turned off. They would be lovely places to camp for trail riders, maybe someday the roads will be reopened and others can use them as well. The last eight miles of the ride went through the area burnt last year; there is a real contrast in the two burned areas. The entire 25 miles today were in pretty good shape as trail crews had just gone through cutting dozens of logs, reshaping miles of tread, making an enjoyable day.
Tonight we are staying in the Acton KOA. I had planned on staying at the Indian Canyon Trailhead across Soledad Canyon Rd from the KOA. However, when I got to the road I found Janis had set up camp in the park. Deluxe accommodations, they parked us at one end of the camp with trees to high line. Amenities include a Laundromat, swimming pool, long hot showers and a little store with ice cream, I can see why Janis would rather stay here.
Day 18, mile 0444 to 0466, Soledad Canyon Rd to Bouquet Canyon Rd
Distance; 21.6 miles, time; 4:01, 5.4 mph average, minimum elevation 2205, maximum elevation 4526, total ascent 4169, total descent 3105. Total miles traveled 432
It was a pretty easy day for BG today which is good because Mercedes may need an extra day off tomorrow. When I come in, in the afternoon, we like to wash off the horse that was ridden. It gives me a chance to go over them and see if any damage has sprung up during the day. Last night Mercedes looked good but this morning she has a lump on her back. I think she probably rolled on a rock during the night; it is pretty tender right now. Just the way the alternating days has worked out Mercedes has been getting the long hard days and BG the shorter easier rides. I wanted to disrupt the rotation anyway so that I would have BG for the ride up out of Tehachapi Pass. That day will be an extremely hard day, 42 miles and a lot of uphill.
First thing today we passed a small stone monument marking the completion of the building of the PCT in 1993. The marker sits just off the railroad right of way accessible only by foot with a short walk from the KOA. It seems an odd and, somehow, lonely place for such a historic monument to the PCT. Apparently this was the last piece of trail to be established across private land, or some such thing.
After the monument we had an eight mile section that gained a thousand feet through nice open grassland, then dropping a thousand feet through sage to Hwy 14. For you fans of Highway thru Hell, I got to see a couple of the big wreckers in action. A semi went over a 40 foot embankment and landed upside down, two wreckers were trying to get it upright and back up on the highway. The wreckers were parked perpendicular to the traffic lanes blocking all but the shoulder of the fast lane. I don’t know how long the back-up was as I only rode alongside a couple miles of it. For the record while I rode those two miles past the wreck I was going much faster than the cars on the freeway.
I thought the tunnel under Hwy 14 might be a bit of an issue, and BG did give it a good looking over before going on through.
A mile past the highway I rode through Vasquez Rocks State Park. This is a really scenic area that has been used for many movies over the years. I am pretty sure I caught a glimpse of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, but I just couldn’t quite catch up to them.
Janis picked me up in the park for the four mile trailer ride through the streets of Agua Dulce. BG and I picked up the trail again near the gate to the Agua Dulce Movie Ranch. Of all the vehicles, horses, cows, trailers, movie set towns and buildings probably the most interesting to me was the wingless fuselage of a large airliner set up twenty feet or more in the air. Looked a little strange in the middle of the pasture. The last nine miles had a 1500 foot climb out in the sun over another grassy ridge followed by a thousand foot descent through oak groves to Bouquet Canyon Rd where Janis once again picked us up.
Not wanting to camp so close to a busy road Janis made arrangements for us to stay at a local boarding facility. We had a nice dinner at a Casa Guiterras, a restaurant we have stopped at before. We had a nice visit with the two brothers who run the restaurant. One brother, Jose, told us he rides every Wednesday for five hours. He showed us several photos of him and his horse riding in the snow the previous winter. Not to be out done his brother showed us a video of his horse dancing to a live band, really pretty cool. Last night at the Robin’s Rest KOA and tonight the Lazy T Ranch, I might be getting spoiled.
Day 19, mile 0466 to 0486, Bouquet Canyon Rd to Lake Hughes Rd
Distance; 20.3 miles, time; 4:09, 4.9 mph average, minimum elevation 3033, maximum elevation 4276, total ascent 2962, total descent 3221. Total miles traveled 453
BG went again today. Most of the ride was in the sagebrush, without much to break up the monotony. We had one view of Lake Hughes.
We passed a sign commemorating the winners of the Leona Divide 50, a foot race.
Even on the least scenic of days the trail provides. I saw my favorite trail marker post ever! Someone planted a well worn shovel with a PCT trail sticker on the blade, a memorial to the unknown trail maintenance crew.
And last but not least a picture of the burn above Lake Hughes Rd.
Some years ago when Janis and I were scouting the PCT overnight stops we got stuck waiting for a pilot car to get through some road construction very near the PCT on Lake Hughs Rd. While we were waiting a fellow came up to some corrals next to the road to feed his horses. I hopped out of the car and over the bank to talk to him. I told him what we were doing and he very generously offered the use of his facilities. Gary Hartle and his wife Gina do behavioral horse training and have been planning on opening a horse related B&B, in a perfect location for the PCT through rider.
Unfortunately last summer’s fire, in combination with last fall’s floods destroyed most of their facilities. They are in the process of rebuilding, but are not quite ready for us at this time. We have moved on to plan B, camping on a wide spot across from the Hartle’s driveway.
Hiker count is way down, 12 in the last four days. I kind of like it, now I feel like I can stop and say hi, how you doing, and be a little more sociable, without sacrificing half my day.
The horses have settled into their individual routines and trail patterns. Mercedes is the steadier and smoother of the horses. Pick a speed, get her rhythm going and she stays with it until she comes to something that she feels necessitates a change. Since her bout with moon blindness she doesn’t see well peripherally with her left eye, so things can sneak up on her. Consequently she spends more time looking around, searching for buggers, especially first thing in the morning. Mercedes is by far the more cautious of the two. She is not inclined to do anything that could possibly in any way cause her harm. She takes care of herself, trailside grazing and drinking at every opportunity. If you whisper “whoa” the brakes are immediately applied. Mercedes has always had free choice pasture and unlimited hay so at night she doesn’t pack in the groceries as much as I would like to see. She will always be a slender horse and on a trip like this she is tough to keep weight on.
BG is tougher. She likes to travel; she has a job, get down the trail. BG doesn’t take care of herself as well as Mercedes. Given the opportunity she would work herself sick; you have to keep one foot on the brake so she doesn’t use herself up to early in the day. BG is extremely athletic as well as being strong. If I had to pick one horse to be on in a tight situation I would take BG hands down. No horse is completely spook proof however BG is close. I think mostly it is because she is so alert; she isn’t surprised because she sees things much earlier than I do. BG goes where you point her nose, Mercedes does too, but not until she has looked it over to her satisfaction. BG averages a good mile an hour faster than Mercedes, but I walk more when it’s Mercedes turn to go. Mercedes goes tomorrow; the bump on her back has disappeared.
Day 20, mile 0486 to 0510, Lake Hughes Rd to Pine Canyon Rd, aka Chair in the Trail
Distance; 25.5 miles, time; 6:25, 4.0 mph average, minimum elevation 3082, maximum elevation 5712, total ascent 4707, total descent 3927. Total miles traveled 478
The lump on Mercedes’ back is all but gone and does not seem to be sensitive to pressure. I tried beating the heat today with an early start. Janis had me up and moving before 7 am. Had it not been for the lack of trail water for Mercedes our plan would have gone off without a hitch. As it was we traveled nearly 18 miles, far more up than down, before Mercedes got a drink. Even then I had to fill her collapsible bucket by drawing water out of a tank using a cut off water bottle and a 12 foot string. There was only about 4” of water at the bottom of the tank so it took a bit of persistence to get a couple of two gallon buckets full.
On the plus side it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, if a little warm. The first part of the trail was mostly our friend, mister sagebrush. As we gained altitude we got into real Oak groves and acres of good grass. This is the California I think of when I read about the Old Spanish Land Grants and the thousands of cattle that were raised. For the most part that was the kind of scenery we had the rest of the day.
On the minus side, bugs. There is an old Boy Scout Camp site five miles up the trail where we were supposed to find our first water. This is just as we started into the oaks, with some sage to cross yet. Looking around in the knee deep grass for a spring that turned out to be dry, we kicked up a cloud of bugs. I don’t know if those bugs that followed us the rest of the day, or if others flocked to their relief, at any rate from that point forward there were bugs. When I get off to walk I like to step right out, get a little energy going, jack up the heart rate and at 6000 feet a lowlander such as myself needs to keep the air coming. The next thing you know I’ve got a mouth full of bugs. Little bitty bugs, stuck to the back of my throat, sticking to my teeth like the seeds in Dave’s Killer Bread. Hack, hack, spit, spit, and wash it all down with Gatorade. Tried breathing through the nose, sucked the little devils up that way too. There were fewer bugs out in the direct sunlight, but every time we got in the shade I had to keep waving my hand in front of my face to keep the bugs back far enough I could breathe.
Passed the 500 mile marker today, whoo-hoo.
Down here there is a toxic plant called poodle dog bush. Poodle dog bush only grows where there has been a recent fire. Hiker’s lore has it that poodle dog bush is ten times as toxic as poison ivy or poison oak. One story is; a man hiking in shorts brushed against a poodle dog bush and ended up in intensive care. In another story a woman picked some and held the beautiful purple flowers against her face, the better to smell them. She died from suffocation when her air passages all swelled shut. Even the PCTA and Half-mile’s notes warn to not touch this plant. Unfortunately all the pictures show the plant in full bloom and they aren’t to that stage yet this time of year. As you can imagine with all the burned areas I have been riding through I have some real concerns. Taking no chances, I stay away from any bush that, I think, potentially could infect me.
I described the plant I thought was poodle dog to one of the forest service fire guys and he confirmed my suspicions. He also told me that in toxicity poodle dog is similar to poison oak and ivy. Some people are extremely reactive while others have a milder effect. He said he hadn’t heard of any one dying from poodle dog, though a fire fighter he worked with did require a trip to the emergency room after getting heavily involved with the bush while clearing a fire line. So much for local lore.
It takes me three of four days to pass most of the serious hikers who will hike 15 to 25 miles a day depending upon terrain and how hot it is. I quit for the day when I reach Janis, which is usually in the mid afternoon. The hikers keep at it well into the evening, some stop for dinner then walk a few more miles before calling it quits for the day. And then they are back at it at first light. If I pass them late in my day they will pass me while I’m in camp. The next day I will pass them a little earlier, and earlier yet each subsequent day until they no longer catch up to my camp.
By now the trail has weeded out most of those hikers that physically or mentally do not have a realistic chance of completing a thru hike. The ones that are left often have interesting stories to tell. They come from all the states in the union as well as from many foreign lands. Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan and the Scandinavian countries are well represented. Some are solitary hikers that prefer the isolation the wild can present. Some are couples seeking the closer bond of a shared experience. Some hike with a partner or two they either started their journey with or have met on the trail. Others travel in loose groups whose members ebb and flow according to the speed, stamina or personalities of their members. They often hike alone, or in small units only coming together to enjoy rest stops during the day and the security of numbers in the evening. In age they range from teenagers to those in their seventies. Official records show there are more men than women, but that is not my perception, where women seem to have the advantage.
When talking with the hikers is sometimes feel a little self-conscious about the ease with which I traverse the trail as compared to them. The heat, the dust, the wear and tear of walking 500 miles with a heavy pack shows in their carriage even though their spirits remain high. I also feel a little guilty because while I ride and enjoy the trail Janis spends much time alone in our remote meeting sites with only Rose for company. As a salve to my conscience, for both circumstances, I have been playing the trail angel, telling some of the more personable hikers that I will buy them an ice cold beer if they make it to our camp that day. And so Janis gets a little company as well as a chance to meet our fellow travelers, and the hikers get the welcome respite of a cold drink in the shade with a real chair to sit in. I’m not sure how it happens but news of our camp has spread up and down the hiker pipeline; “look for the black truck with a silver trailer and a white dog for a little trail magic
When we first scouted truck meeting spots in this area in 2012 someone had placed a recliner in the shade of a tree just off of Pine Canyon Rd. at the PCT crossing. Though the chair is long gone we still call this spot “Chair in the Trail”. When I reached that intersection I saw a couple of hikers that I had met the day before, Randy and Bigfoot, hot and tired, cooling their feet in the creek. I offered them cold beverages if they wanted to come by our camp but as the trailer was a half mile off trail and they were intent on getting to Hiker Town, another six miles, they opted for a rain check this day.
Chapter 2 – Notes from the sidelines. By Janis Pegg
As Gary headed out on the trail this morning, Rose and I set to finishing up the packing and “leave no trace” cleanup. Basically, poop scooping and throwing it as far as possible into the shrubbery. Rose loves this particular task, racing to and fro, jumping at the pitchfork and barking. She takes this and many other tasks very seriously, such as sweeping, shoveling, fly swatting; honestly, the list is very long. We loaded BG who, along with Mercedes, has become accustomed to the routine of staying behind for part of the day, and set out for our camp for the night. We stopped by the local market to see about filling our water tanks and buy ice. An older gentleman asked about the horse trailer and I explained what I was doing. He was thrilled and then began to tell stories about his granddaughter who rides in the local rodeos… that is one proud grandpa J
Yesterday we had met a woman and her girls, who invited us to stay at their ranch 5 miles from today’s designated parking. They knew some of the same people we know from the endurance riding community, even “the Duck” who married Gary and I at the end of the XP2011 ride. It is indeed a small world. I intended to take them up on their offer if our parking spot was occupied. It was available this morning, so I backed in and unpacked. It is easier for Gary to ride out in the morning if we are near the trail rather than driving to a trailhead so we park near the trail when possible.
Once we were unpacked, Rose and I took a walk ½ mile up the country road to investigate a 10,000 gallon water tank, only to find it was empty. Rose ran the entire way, dragging sticks along, enticing me to chase her. I felt a little bad for her the other day as we prepared to leave the Lazy T ranch… she had just found a fun dog to play with and it was time to go. I spent much of my walk looking on the road side and in the shrubbery for snakes. I have been warned multiple times that this is the time the snakes start to emerge. I was specifically warned to watch for the Mojave Greens. Apparently they are a Rattlesnake that has rattles, but often doesn’t use them; it just strikes if you encroach on its territory. Even worse, I am told it will pursue you. That is the stuff nightmares are made of. I try to have the pitchfork or shovel handy, just in case.
As we walked, I was struck by how remote it feels. There are ranch houses every ½ mile or so, but you cannot see them from the road. The only noise you can hear are the beautiful songs of unfamiliar birds I don’t often see but hear much of the time. The trailer is backed off the road amongst a large thicket of mountain lilac; it smells wonderful. There are a million bees at work on those lilacs and also as many bugs flying all around. A few weird bugs have dropped down from the trees onto the keyboard as I type. So far I have only found one tick on myself and one on Gary which I am grateful for. Once you find one, you feel ghost ticks the rest of the day. I douse myself, Rose and BG with bug spray hoping they respect our personal space. I swallowed a few unidentified bugs before applying the insect repellent and still feel them caught in my throat despite every effort to dislodge them. One thing about camping with horses, there are always bugs and flies in the vicinity.
Tomorrow I refill the water tanks and drive to the desert, between Lancaster and Mojave. It’s an inhospitable place where the PCT meanders through Joshua Trees dotting the landscape. I hope the weather cools a bit. The following day we should arrive at Hwy 58 then plan to spend a “zero day” at a local horse motel. We will all appreciate the day off, resting for the extremely long day riding from Hwy 58 to Piute Mountain Rd. BG will really earn her oats that day, traveling 42 long hot miles. She and Gary will be glad to see the trailer that day. I will try to have something special for dinner that day and ice cold Dos Equis waiting in the cooler J More later!