Day 33: Near climb to Mt. Baden-Powell (Mile 373)-Kratka Ridge (Mile 389.5); 16.5 miles
After a short morning descent, we climbed 2800 feet in 3.6 miles to reach the summit of Mt Baden-Powell. Mountains surrounded us on all sides, except to the north where the Mojave Desert stretched flat to the horizon. It was an amazing view of what lay ahead for us on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Near the summit we found gnarled, slow-growing limber pine trees. This species can survive in very harsh conditions for up to 2000 years.
A few miles later, tired from the climb and with our bellies growling for lunch, we passed a hiker resting at a trail junction next to a sign. We were focused on finding a good shady lunch spot, so we glanced briefly at the sign and continued walking. About a mile farther down the trail, things didn’t feel right. The trail was dropping faster than it should and the highway had become visible too soon. Sure enough, the GPS on our phones showed we were off the PCT.
This was incredibly frustrating. We had been too embarrassed to read the sign carefully or check our map in front of the hiker at the junction, so we took the wrong path. We hadn’t made any wrong turns before that point, and this was a tiring one. We had to walk all the way back uphill to the junction. Surprisingly, as we retraced our steps, we encountered six other PCT hikers heading in the wrong direction. Back at the Throop Peak junction, we took the path less travelled, which was the true, although poorly labeled, Pacific Crest Trail.
Towards the end of the day we had some steep ups and downs, and decided to call it a day when we ran across a beautiful campsite with large pine trees and a great view of the sun setting over the mountains.
Day 34: Kratka Ridge (Mile 389.5)-Near Sulphur Spring (Mile 407.5); 18 miles
Early in the day we were required to detour from the PCT because a four mile section was closed to protect the endangered yellow-legged frog. The frog’s population has been decimated by the introduction of trout into mountain lakes, and by farmers’ use of pesticides, among other factors.
After completing the five mile detour, we were glad to be back on the PCT again.
Also of note for today, Anna was suffering from painful period cramps, which made the walking difficult. Cramps and a backpack hip belt are not a good combination. Our pet bird Cheep Cheep is always there to turn our mood around and make us laugh, though. Today she was wearing an acorn top as a beret. Silly bird!
Day 35: Near Sulphur Spring (Mile 407.5)-Messenger Flat (Mile 430.5); 23 miles
While taking down the tent this morning, Chris found a scorpion. We gave it plenty of space.
The morning started out beautifully. This is typically our favorite time of day because the temperature is cooler, the morning light is lovely, and our legs are fresh. In midmorning we filtered water from a tiny spring surrounded by poodle dog bush and a swarm of thirsty bees. This killed our morning calm, but so it goes. The water tasted great.
Later in the day we reached the recently reopened Station Fire portion of the PCT. During the trail’s closure, little maintenance was performed, so the path was somewhat overgrown, but we could follow it. We walked through some beautiful dramatic burned areas, but also dodged plenty of poodle dog bush. We found a grove of charred trees still standing amidst a sea of fire-red scarlet bugler flowers.
We arrived at the ranger station to a sizable crowd of hikers. We washed off poodle dog bush oil at the faucet and ate tortillas with peanut butter.
Then we took a ten mile road walk detour to avoid even more serious poodle dog. Fortunately the road decently paralleled the trail, and was closed to the public. But this being the PCT, even the road detour included a serious climb!
We reached Messenger Flat campground near sunset and ate dinner with Tangent, Holstein, U-Haul, and a father and son pair from New Zealand. Dinner conversation was spirited and turned to trail names for the Kiwis. Peter was soon named Shack (he had traveled to the Antarctic as the great explorer Shackleton had) and his son Hamish was dubbed WeeKi (the wee Kiwi).
Day 36: Messenger Flat (Mile 430.5)-Agua Dulce (Mile 454.5) + 1 mile to Hiker Heaven at the Saufleys; 25 Miles
We had spent the night with a campground full of thru hikers — about 25 by our count, and too many for our taste. We got going early and had some of the morning to ourselves, but hikers would bunch up at water sources. It felt a bit like summer camp with all those people.
Adding to our woes, we came across both poodle dog and poison oak. But these irritants were balanced by a healthy variety of wildflowers in glorious bloom.
A friendly western scrub jay visited us.
The trail then meandered through Vasquez Rocks State Park, named after an outlaw who hid amidst the wild rock formations there. Finally we ended with a road walk and reached Hiker Heaven, run by the Saufleys in Agua Dulce. All told, we had covered 25 miles, a new daily record for us. We were tired but not overly sore!
Day 37: Zero Day, Agua Dulce
After a good sleep at the Saufleys’ place, we borrowed two of their loaner bikes and rode into downtown Agua Dulce to eat, buy food, work on our blog post, and eat some more. The Saufleys have a wonderful setup for hikers in their backyard and we are very grateful for their hospitality. We took showers, and they did our laundry for us too! Awesome.
Our final preparations included filling up on water. We would soon enter the Mojave Desert.