After a wonderful stay in Wrightwood last week, we hiked out on Friday and climbed to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, a peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. Named after the founder of the Boy Scouts, it’s a 9,400 ft. mountain and the highest point on the PCT in Southern California. It was a hard hike but very beautiful, with clouds lining the south side of the mountain ridge and a clear view of pines laid out before us to the north. We hiked down the San Gabriel Mountains in the afternoon and camped among some weekenders.
The next day was hot and involved a three-mile detour on the highway to avoid an endangered species habitat (that of the Mountain Yellow-legged Frog). Our spirits were not very high. But suddenly, Ashleigh stopped me and pointed, exclaiming, “There’s a bear in that tree!!!” I stopped in my tracks, quickly backtracked to Ashleigh, and looked in the direction she was frantically pointing her trekking pole. There, high in a tree about 20 yards from us, was a baby bear poking his head around the tree’s trunk to look at us!! It was amazing. Neither Ashleigh nor I had ever seen a wild bear, and here, only 400 miles into our hike, we were watching one climb a tree. Nervous and excited, we searched around for the mother, knowing you should never get between a mama bear and her cubs. We started shouting and throwing rocks in the direction of where we thought the mother was (to make ourselves known). We could hear something large in the undergrowth below the tree the cub was in, but we never actually saw the mother. As the trail wound past the tree, we saw a second cub in the underbrush just 30 feet from us. It was super adorable and exciting to be so close, but since we never located the mother, we quickly walked past.
The next few days were not very fun. After passing mile 400, we moved into a burn area and encountered long stretches of trail that were overgrown with Poodle Dog Bush. Poodle Dog Bush seed lay dormant along the mountain sides until wildfires, after which they sprout. It is a known skin irritant like poison oak, and in this section of the trail, it is everywhere. There were numerous detours around it (including an 11-mile uphill road walk, which was loads of fun), but it was still hard to avoid. It was exhausting – hiking through Poodle Dog territory requires constant focus on the ground (carefully identifying the plants in front of you before taking each step), and it slowed us down quite a bit.
Finally, we made it to Agua Dulce and the Saufleys, who are probably the most legendary of all the PCT Trail Angels. They offer laundry, shelter, cots, showers, mail (both sending and receiving), hiker boxes, loaner clothes, kitchen, computers (what I’m on right now) and almost everything a hiker could want. Their backyard is filled with large tents with cots in them. Other Angels come from all over to help them with their operation, which is insanely efficient. We are taking a much-needed “Zero Day” here and will be back on the trail on Thursday. There is a long stretch of very hot desert in front of us to Tehachapi and then on to Kennedy Meadows and the start of the Sierra. We hope to night hike a lot of it to beat the heat!