Southern California’s climate has been much more diverse than we thought it would be. We always heard “the first 700 miles are in the desert.” Though we knew it wouldn’t be rolling sand dunes for miles off to the horizon (the stereotypical image the word “desert” often conjures), we also didn’t expect to encounter some of the coldest nights we’ve ever camped in (not to mention snow and hail on San Jacinto). From Campo to Big Bear Lake, we did encounter a few hot days, but they didn’t last long, and we were usually able to hike through them. But this last section of trail from Big Bear to Wrightwood gave us a little taste of what the dessert is really like.
Shortly after hiking out of Big Bear, we passed the 300-mile mark (yay!!), but things soon got difficult as we descended in elevation and the weather heated up. On our second day out of town, we walked for miles and miles along a shade-less ridge above Deep Creek – a gorgeous creek that wound through the canyon, always at least 50 feet below us, taunting us with its cool pools. Finally, after 20 LONG miles, we arrived at Deep Creek Hot Springs (apparently reputed to be one of the finest hot springs in the world, and it happens to be directly on the trail!), and we immediately jumped in the creek to cool off. Later we would tour the many small hot springs pools that lined the creek. It felt amazing – like a hot tub, warming our sore muscles.
The next day, we made it only six miles before we had to sit down and rest under a lone cedar tree with a group of other hikers. We stayed for four hours, waiting out the oppressively hot sun. My watch told me it was 95 degrees in the shade. It was extremely hard to leave that tree.
Hiking on, we met Interstate 15 and a sign pointing us to a McDonald’s. Now, we’ve heard about this particular McDonald’s for some time now – it’s kind of a hiker tradition. It comes within half a mile of the trail, and most hikers are drawn in by air conditioning and Big Macs. We were no exception. We were dreaming of ice and the burst of cold air when you open the doors. Even though it’s been probably 10 years since either Ashleigh or myself has been to a McDonald’s, we couldn’t help but be drawn in.
Hiking on from Interstate 15, we embarked on the longest (not necessarily the most difficult, but the longest) uninterrupted climb on the trail (20 miles of UP!) to the small ski town of Wrightwood, CA. After hitching a ride to town with some generous mountain bikers, we stayed with an amazing Trail Angel named Jeff – a 5th Grade school teacher who has no personal connection to the trail but began hosting hikers several years ago after noticing them in town. We are treating ourselves to a true “Zero” here in town and will head onward on Friday.
We’ve now completed just over 50 percent of the desert! Though it’s been tough, and hot, we are doing our best to embrace it as part of the trail experience. Tomorrow, we head out for an 85-mile section that will bring us to Agua Dulce.