A Night at Mill Creek

Mile 403. The last crossing of Highway 2 at Three Points trailhead. Abruptly, the forest ends in scrub desert and chapparal.

“Where did everybody go?” Yesterday I ran into just one pair of hikers, picnicing at Glendale youth camp. This morning I pass Rattles, famed for snaring an attacking rattlesnake with a branch and tossing it off the trail. He asks the question I’ve been asking myself. Suddenly the PCT has turned into a ghost trail. We’re hiking alone, almost all day.

Rattles and I are both heading for the ranger station at Mill Creek, 16 miles ahead, where there’s said to be water. Otherwise it’s reported to be a long and dry stretch.

Wrongly, as it turns out. Two springs, still but clear, burble along the trail before 407. At exactly mile 411, Fountainhead spring (with a small pipe spigot) is flowing well. Beware, just steps before half a dozen Poodle Dawgs lie in wait.

In the heat, you take refuge from the monotony in small things. Today, for me, it’s imaging the lives of ants. They scurry along the trail, hiking too, living their little ant lives, dreaming their little ant dreams. There are so many and they move so fast that I must have stepped on some. Not the sort of karma I want on the PCT. A quail bursts from a bush and runs down the trail. And of course for snakes and lizards and black beetles, the PCT is a cosmic living room.

All in all, it’s an easy stretch — until a sharp, long climb up Pacifico Mountain, a gain of some 1200 feet from where I started. It ends in another of those idyllic alpine oases that mark the PCT’s higher elevations. I stop for lunch at a sunny spot amid the rocks and pines, shielded from the wind.

Just then Bee Hive comes by, already 19 miles into his day after a zero in Wrightwood. He’s cruisin’ at 3.5 miles an hour, listening to New York Times pod casts about the Middle East. “See you at Mill Creek,” he says, departing in a proverbial cloud of dust. His mates are behind him, also coming on fast. So far, he’s only the second hiker I’ve seen all day.

Just before Mill Creek ranger station, at mile 419 on the Angeles Crest Highway, along comes his hiking partner Taco. There’s trail magic from Rodeo — lemonade and cold apples — as well as Gaia and Docent with fresh-baked cookies and a flat of strawberries. Pizza and beer have just been delivered to another pair of hikers.

Puma and Smoke Break arrive, the missing pair in Bee Hive’s pod, The scene is set for a trail party but, abruptly, the sun disappears and a chill mist from the sea rolls in. It’s only 5 pm, but folks are ready to pitch their tents and call it a day.

Expecting a cold night, likely in the 30s, Puma and Smoke Break intend to sleep in one of the two highway restrooms “It’s clean,” I offer, having already considered it myself.

The wind blows sand and a fine dust into my tent all night, as the traffic rumbles along the highway.

May 11

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