The stretch of trail from the Mojave dam to Silverwood Lake wins my vote for ugliest so far on the PCT. Halfmile Notes tells it all. Join paved road. Pass under power lines. Join Highway 173 after passing through industrial work yard. And so on.
I feared the trail into the hills west of the lake would bring more of the same. The brown dry hills offered little promise, at first glance. And the steady switchbacks rising a thousand feet in the first three miles were no more reassuring — especially since the view from the top is of more brown hills unfolding relentlessly in the distance, topped by power lines and wind turbines. But once the trails drops down off that first high ridge, you begin to discover its many small pleasures.
Flowers, to start with. One of my nicknames is Fleur Man, for reasons made obvious by these pictures. Today’s desert abundance was beyond anything I have yet seen on the PCT.
Before starting, I expected these 13 miles from the western end of Silver Lake to Cajon Pass would be an easy stroll. I had it figured as a “nero” before tomorrow’s “hero” – a 25-mile, 5000-foot climb into the Angeles National Forest above the mountain town of Wrightwood. My maps showed today’s walk to be, well, just that -– a walk, more down than up. In fact, there turned out to be lots of ups and downs –- down into shady glens of oaks, up across knife-edge ridges, along mountain-top cliffs that fell vertically hundreds of feet into rocky canyons. What was to be a stroll turned out to be a hike, nothing short of spectacular. And lined with flowers all the way.
The moral, I suppose: never underestimate the PCT, never take it for granted.
Around mile 338, entering the final third of the stretch, I hear a distant train blowing its horn — a beautiful, haunting sound from over the far hills, carried on the winds out here among the free. We’re approaching the Interstate 15 corridor at Cajon Pass. And then, from atop a ridge, suddenly there it is in the distance — cars and trucks moving up its switchbacks in synchronized slow-motion.
As the trail approaches I-15, it drops ever more sharply. In some places it’s easier on the legs to run down than walk. The end comes at the mouth of a tightly boxed canyon, rocky walls hemming in a little trickling sandy stream lined with trees, barely more than a dribble in most places.
Abruptly, civilization. Of sorts. The river of traffic and noise that is I-15. That and a smell of fast food from the McDonald’s franchise half a mile away. It even has its own sign: MdD .4, with an arrow. Thisaway.
I follow my nose, open the door to this improbable subsidiary of Hiker Heaven –- and walk in to applause so loud that I suddenly turn bashful. Every booth is filled with hikers, all giving a big hand to new arrivals.
People catch up with their pods here. Sate that ravening beast within called Hiker Hunger. Explode their packs and talk strategy for the next daunting leg. How much water to carry? What time of day to start, this evening or before dawn tomorrow, in order to maximize hiking time in the morning cool rather than the mid-day broiler?
The talk is also of experiences along the way. Among the hotter topics: weird happenings at the Deep Creek thermal springs. Specifically, all those naked men proudly strutting their no-so-much stuff, according to half a dozen of the women in the booth-to-booth conversation that I join. “I’m not hung like a stallion,” says her boyfriend. “But I was concerned for some of those guys.” So many, so manly muscled, yet so little there there.
Another woman hiker tells of a dude so doped out that he couldn’t remember what trail he took to get to the springs, and thus lost his car. A pair of the Naked Ones stood by while she tried to help, a kind of human stereo effect of the most embarrassing sort. “Couldn’t look to the right, couldn’t look to the left,” she says. Finally she just closed her eyes and pretended she was someplace else.
Not your standard Micky D’s experience.