So here we are, in Wrightwood CA (mike 370ish), waiting on a new tent to arrive by FedEx today (fingers crossed). We got into town Thursday morning. This is Monday morning. We’ve been in town 4 full days and counting. Since our last post in Cajon Pass, we hiked 14 miles to Wrightwood, we crossed the San Andreas fault, Jared got sick, Jared got better, we received the wrong tent pole in the mail, we were informed about an injured missing hiker, we called the sheriff, we initiated a search and rescue, we were informed that the hiker was found – fine and did not require medical attention, we hung out with “the Mothers”, we ate 2 burgers a piece (along with plenty of other real food and drank countless gatorades), we spent way too much money, we slack-packed over Baden-Powell, and we received good news about Jared’s research experiment back at UW Seattle!
Let’s start at the beginning – or the day we left Cajon Pass. That first day back on the trail, we rolled out of our room at the Best Western at a comfortable 7:30, ate a luxurious breakfast at McDonalds while we downloaded music and stalled. We were dreading this next section – a 22.5 mile uphill stretch without water. Expecting it to be epic, we filled our bellies and bottles with more electrolytes than our body knew what to do with. Off we marched at 9 am into the mountainous desert. We hiked and we hiked, up sandstone outcrops, past a wonderful water cache, across the San Andreas fault, and into another geologic regime of metamorphic schists. Up, up, and away! We saw the familiar names of our former hiking companions in the trail registers a few days ahead of us. The day went by quicker than expected. We encountered our first treacherous section of poodle-dog bush unscathed a few miles before passing Pony Boy, another thru-hiker, around 5:30 as he was setting up camp. Feeling good (well, mostly good. Jared had mentioned ill feelings that morning), we pushed on to do 20 miles and we set up camp at the top of the ridge above Wrightwood just as it was getting dark. As the sun set and the sky grew dark, the desert floor below came to life as it illuminated with town lights and a snake-like path of headlights and breaklights along I-15. A great campsite.
The next morning we were on the trail by 7. Our plan: hike the 4 miles in, pick up our resupply and new replacement tent pole at the post office and hardware store, maybe crash at a motel or campground that night, and hit the trail the next morning heading for Agua Dulce. Out plan didn’t work out quite as expected. Jared started feeling sick – exhausted, queasy, not hungry. We took it easy and made it those 4 miles mostly downhill by noon. Pony Boy passed us. Jared said he fell asleep twice on the trail. We reached Highway 2 and caught an easy hitch with an older Korean couple who had been day-hiking that morning. The man, 70-year old former Seattleite, told us the secret to staying young was to hike every day. He didn’t look a day over 50. They dropped us off at the post office, we picked up our heavy resupply and bounce boxes, checked in on our tent poles – not in yet, and lugged or wares to the Pines Inn, where Jared promptly crashed for 3+ hours. I unpacked a few boxes and roamed about town, buying a few veggies at Jensen’s, the grocery store in town, and chatting with The Mothers (who I was incredibly happy to see. They made it the 100 mile stretch from Big Bear with only a few hitches, and now were our neighbors at the Pines Inn). Once I was back in the hotel room and Jared was awake, he spent the better part of the afternoon in the bathroom and I walked back to Jensen’s for gatorade, pedialyte, and all other items to prevent dehydration, already feeling like a local and chatting with the grocery store clerks. I fed Jared plenty of fluids and we are some bland food in our motel room, before watching Brazil and going to sleep.
Friday morning Jared was feeling better. We went to the Mountain Hardware to look for our tent poles – and they were in! Amazing! We brought them to the room, set them up, and…wrong poles. We were on the phone right away with Big Agnes…a mistake on their part…sending a new tent…overnighting…should be in tomorrow (Saturday). Great. We spent the rest of the day bumming around, thinking about our next stop on the trail, restocking our sunscreen and moleskin, and chatting with The Mothers. We were again at Mountain Hardware that afternoon when a man who worked there, David, approached us with some unsettling news…had we seen Lorna (Trooper) Lee? He had dropped her off at Grassy Hollow Wednesday night. On Thursday morning he received texts from her…”I need help”, “I’ve hurt my leg badly”, “I’m near mile 385 off of Highway 2”. He drove to look for her, could not find her, and didn’t know what to do. We had an injured, missing hiker on our hands. We left and began searching ourselves – putting up notes on the PCT Class of 2014 Facebook page and asking everyone we knew on the trail. We stopped by the Farmers Market and had dinner with the Mothers at the Yodeller. A few hours later, with no word on the trail, no news from David, and with the guidance of the mothers, I made a 911 call to report missing hiker Lorna Lee. With 30 minutes we were talking to Deputy C. Ash of San Bernadino County at the Pines Inn, explaining the situation, and expressing our concern. While none of us had ever met or even seen Lorna, we felt a sense of responsibility toward our fellow hiker. Within another 20 minutes, we could hear the helicopters begin their search above us. A restless sleep and a midnight phone call from LA County Sheriffs Office.
Saturday morning I woke in an unsettled mood, continuing the “search” for Lorna, sending more messages on Facebook, contacting trail angels, etc. We sorted our food, checked out of our room, and checked on our tent – nothing yet at Mountain Hardware. The Mothers were kind enough to offer us a place to stay in their room if we needed it. We talked to various deputies (the case had been transferred to LA County), Ziggy, David, and Lorna’s mother. No word yet. Nobody had heard from Lorna in over 48 hours. That afternoon I got a text from Lorna’s mother – “she’s ok”. Texts from David revealed the same thing. A call to the deputy confirmed this. Lorna was fine. The story was: she got off the trail, got help, got back on the trail, and was found a few miles from where she had last been heard from, completely oblivious to the search and rescue efforts underway. Why she hadn’t contacted David or anyone else is unclear. I was glad she was safe but also irritated by failure in communication. Mother Brenda, Mother Sarah, Jared, and I ate roast chicken and drank beer that evening. We all bunked up, and Jared and I planned our 12-16 mile slack-pack over 9,400 ft Baden-Powell the next morning.
We woke at 6, had real coffee and real food (breakfast quesadilla for myself), and got a hitch within 10 minutes. A middle aged man named Bill from Wrightwood driving his wife’s car, who taught journalism in Rancho-Cucamonga, was kind enough to drive us the 18 miles to the Islip Saddle trailhead in order for us to southbound the section over Baden-Powell. With 2-3 L of gatorade and little else on our backs, we plodded easily up the slope. Many day hikers were out this beautiful Sunday. Just beyond Throop Peak, we ran into Paint-Your-Wagon, a bearded middle aged thru-hiker who had a huge 110 L pack and was on his third PCT attempt. We summitted Baden-Powell around 12:30, and man was I already feeling the elevation. Sluggish and queasy, I rested in the shade. I hope pushing myself will get my body ready for the Sierras and 15k+ ft Mt Whitney in July… We walked downhill, quickly and easily along the switchbacks and talus slopes, until we were at the Vincent Gap parking lot. Immediately, we ran into a few hikers, Steve and Beth, from LA who were training for Mt Whitney in July. They offered us cold beer, farm fresh cherries, and a ride to town. We hopped in their car, chatted about extreme hikers and Heather “Anish” Anderson (the badass PCT speed record holder), and were back in town drinking more gatorade in no time. Nap time. We took The Mothers out for a thanks-for-letting-us-crash-with-you burger dinner at the Yodeller, drank beer in celebration, talked about the weather (the high was 101 degrees today!), and were asleep by 10 pm.
The next day (hopefully tent-arrival) day, we woke slowly and bid The Mothers good-luck on their day hike up the steep Acorn Trail. Real coffee. Banana, peanut-butter, crackers, and cheese for breakfast. Jared talked to his collaborators while I wrote postcards, blogged, and tracked the status of our tent…ETA 4:30 pm today!
The next couple of days should be solid – we plan to do 20-mile days to Agua Dulce (mile 454), take a half-day, and continue our 20-milers on to Hikertown (mile 517)… Trying to get back on schedule… Stay tuned…
The hardest part of getting stuck in town for me is sitting still. This time, I was feeling pretty poorly on the way in so I was happy to see a bed. 4 days later, though, I’m a lot more excited about a tent! When you’re used to moving, and moving a lot, sitting still for extended periods of time is the pits. I myself get really antsy, I don’t sleep well, and I feel generally out of sorts. By contrast, even though my bed on the trail consists of a 3/4″ foam pad under my back and my backpack under my legs, I sleep like a baby every night and wake up feeling focused and relaxed.
With any luck we will be back on the trail tomorrow! We are expecting our tent to be delivered to mountain hardware this afternoon, and I think if we call to see if it’s there one more time they will probably block our numbers. We are planning to get a little hiking in this afternoon, and then hit it hard again tomorrow on our way to agua dulce. The terrain shouldn’t be too bad, but we will definitely be up against some desert heat in the next few days as we head into the Mojave.