Section 01. Campo to Warner Springs

Having spent a frantic week in LA and Palmdale buying non perishable food and hiking equipment, packaging up 130 days of food and shipping them in 19 resupply packages up the PCT, and driving 1200 miles in the process, I was looking forward to the relief of starting the trail. The previous week had been devoid of anything interesting.

I got a lift to the Southern Terminus by the town of Campo on the Mexican Border where there was a rickety corrugated iron fence. There were a few other people being dropped off. Already it was hot and it was barely 1000. I turned north and took the first of many millions of steps towards Canada.

After a few miles the heat was already punishing. The trail wove between scrub. The bushes looked like small holly oak with jagged leaves,but the were a huge variety of different species.  Many of the scrub bushes were in flower and covered in foraging bees. Amongst the hostile shrubs were more delicate flowers also in bloom. Most impressive were the tall flower spikes of the Chaparral Yucca which sported a sometimes 10 foot high column of white or pink flowers. Occasionally ravens, the wiliest of birds, could be seen feasting on this seasonal bounty.

But the heat dominated despite the wonder at the new and unfamiliar surroundings. After 4 miles I got to an expected stream, filtered water, and drunk heavily. I encountered a few others, mostly stragglers as I started late and the day’s main herd of 40 starters were already on ahead. Everyone was feeling the heat. A few took shelter under shade during the worst of the day’s heat between 12 and 3.

However there was more to see than I first feared of this “Desert Section”.  Mostly flowers and lizards but also a few birds. The views were also calm and rolling a betrayed the inhospitable scrub if one were to venture off the trail.

I would only make the 15 miles Hawser Creek where the bulk of the day’s herd were camped beside a stream under oaks. I got in late and the heat had taken its toll. Just a quick bite and straight to sleep. A hikers midnight is 8 o’clock..

The next day was a early start helped by the movements of the rest of the herd and i was off by 0700 for the climb over the hill to Lake Morena. I got there as the heat hit by 1030 and found the store to have breakfast. A huge cheese omelette made up for yesterday’s lack of food, but all too soon it was time to sweat under the sun again. Many hikers had silver umbrellas they attached to their rucksacks to walk under.

I walked over a baking hill for two hours and then descended a rocky path to a creek lined with cottonwood trees. Under their shelter many hikers were hiding from the midday sun, mostly barefeet with their feet in the warm creek water. I joined them a chatted until we all thought it was time to continue another 6 miles in the still intense late afternoon heat to Yellow Rose Creek camp. This camp was also beside a creek under oaks. We had been very lucky this year as most of the creeks we encountered would have long dried up at this time of year but the exceptional rains meant they were still flowing.

On the third day the we hiked in groups or individually as we climbed up to Mt Laguna. The heat was intense again but i was driven on by the promise of pine forests and a shower. When the forests came it was like arriving home after a long journey. The dappled light which made it down to the floor was enough to support a sea of grass. It was not only pines but Oaks. Many of the oak’s leaves were still unfurling and were crimson in colour before maturing lime green. The oak copses were therefore pink. Beneath the oaks in the grasses were swarms of lady birds, many flying and others crawling on the grasses.

After 2 very hot arid days in the Chaparral the trail finally climbed up to Mount Laguna with its forests of 2 needled Ponderosa Pine and California Oak.

After 4 miles of this paradise i arrived at Mount Laguna. Here i camped with some 25 other hikers in a campsite and once showering and clothes washing had been done we could chat and relax for the evening until our midnight at 8 o’clock.

All too soon it was time to get up and force our muscles into gear again. I choose to hike alone today as we left the sanctuary of the cool pines and oaks of Mount Laguna and descended again into the scrub like Chaparral. It was a pleasant walk along the ridge for the whole day. To the east the landscape fell away steeply for 3000 feet to the arid desert in the rain shadow of the ridge I was on. It looked very inhospitable and I feared i would be down there before long. I camped high on this ridge watching the shadows lengthen on the desert floor and then night fall. The moon was clear and bright but when it set around midnight the stars were crystal clear with the Big Bear so obvious.

As i feared the trail now made a 2 day loop into the desert leaving the hot Chaparral behind and entering the furnace. I was blasé with water as there had been more than promised earlier. After a few hours I was down in the scorching plains with 2 litres of water. I could always fill up at Rodriguez. However I had read an old water report from a few weeks ago and Rodriguez had since dried up. So i had just a litre now to manage me across 10 miles of baking arid dusty hillside.  I was counting the miles to the water cache where everyone else had already headed. Just 7 to go, 5 to go. But each mile took an eternity. I paused frequently in the shade to cool off and had small sips of water to lubricate my throat. As one stage i foolishly tried to eat a “Cliff bar”, however it just turned to a bitumen like paste in my mouth which i could not get rid of it, and had to waste precious water rinsing. Eventually at nightfall I made it to the camp under the bridge and immediately drank 4 litres to rehydrate.  Although the water was warm it was lifegiving. The lack of water had taken it out of me and left me exhausted. I did not put the tent up but just cowboy camped under the bridge. The next day promised to be worse.

The heat of the desert was phenomenal compared to the higher Chaparral, which itself was hot. Here there was a serious scarcity of water

The herd camped at the bridge got up early to make it to Barrel Spring at mile 101 – some 24 miles away. I was too tired for that so opted  to go just 14 miles to the next water stash and camp there. With the early 0500 start I was halfway there before the heat hit. By then i had already climbed up into the San Filipe Hills. The path contoured up slowly going in and out of every ravine. The cactus here were extraordinary, especially the large Barrel Cactus, a foot in diameter and sometimes 3 high. This section had the richest variety of cactus so far. The views here were also good over the plain which i climbed from this morning and crossed yesterday. When the sun should have started to kick in on this dry hot stretch i was blessed with a veil of high cloud  which took the worst out of the sun. After a quick breakfast on the hoof at the halfway point i pushed on and by early afternoon had reached the cache of warm water. Others were chilling the shade waiting to push on the next 10 miles in the late afternoon but i was content to stay here and get up early. My heavy legs were tired, my body was tired – still a victim to yesterday’s partial dehydration and long day. I put my tent up in the shade and snoozed. By the time I awoke people were leaving for the afternoon march.  That night I camped  alone for the first time on the trip. Although i enjoyed the company of the others in  the herd, who I was now getting to know, it was great to be alone in the San Filipe Hills under a crystal clear night sky.

I woke a 0300 and forced myself up. I was well rested and it was cool- almost cold. I set off at 0400 in the dark. The air felt humid and my fingers cold. Almost unthinkable 12 hours previously. I walked well for an hour until dawn approached and i could see mists on the ridges. It was more reminiscent of Scotland weather and i was invigorated. I walked briskly for 4 hours non stop over the crest of the San Filipe hills and down to the grasslands off the plains below where the Barrel Spring was at mile 101 was. As I walked I met others coming out of their tents and caught some up. We chatted and then parted in the early morning. I was feeling a bond of togetherness with them now. A band of brothers and sisters on our march to Canada. The previous 2 days emotions were just perfunctory to survival.

Just before the spring was mile 100. It was a elation to see it etched in the path in pebbles. I paused for photos and took some of the few hikers who passed me before continuing to the spring.

The large concrete trough with clear water flowing into it was something of an oasis despite the nearby poison oak. People gathered here and chatted, snacking and telling of stories. A hiker then stormed in having hiked all 24 miles from the bridge through the night. His lack of modesty and bravado were unmatched and left the other 5 of us speechless.

Soon the band set off again as individuals. The path now crossed extensive  grassy plains. This was the scenery i remember from western movies where Herefords cattle roamed. The foot high grasses had bulbous  ripening seedheads which were flowing in unison with the gentle gusts. Occasionally a Live Oak would stand proud, perhaps a remnant from an ancient pre-settler forest. We passed a remarkable rock outcrop which naturally looked like a eagle and aptly named Eagle Rock. At last the grasslands were enveloped by the Live Oaks and a shallow valley formed which led us down to the sanctuary of Warner Springs. By now rain seemed probable.

At Warner Springs the small local community had turned the hall and playing field into a reception centre for PCT hikers. There was  place to camp, bucket showers, toilet facilities and even home homemade food and cookies in the hall for the 40 odd thru hikers staying  here. God bless the Good People of Warner Springs!. The desert dust was soon washed off our bodies and with more persistence our clothes before the rain set in.  I walked well today,  perhaps I was getting my “hiker legs”.

I slept well in the rain under a huge Live Oak pleased the single skin cuben fibre tent was as good as my others and grateful for the space. I will have a long lie and then a Zero Day at Warner Springs while the drizzle falls and my body recovers.

‹ Previous PostNext Post ›