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Begins: Apr 25, 2010
Date: Wed, Apr 28th, 2010
Start: 1 mile south of Long Canyon
End: Pioneer Mail Trailhead
Daily Distance: 16.2
Trip Distance: 52.6
Entry Visits: 1,054
Journal Visits: 47,571
Guestbook Views: 4,965
Guestbook Entrys: 116
Pacific Crest Trail Map
Day 4 and an unplanned zero today here in a cozy, warm, dry room at
the Julian Lodge in this old gold-mining town. Believe me, I don't
intend zeroing more than once a fortnight or so, but the Trail throws
unexpected trials at you and you can't always be a slave to your
What a day of contrasts yesterday was. I had my first decent night's
sleep so far at that glorious camp under the old tree, woke to a
completely dry tarp, packed in a good mood and got a 6:30 start,
breakfastless, keen to make up for my slack starts in the preceding
days. I prefer early starts but they're harder when you're in a group.
I like to do an hour or more and stop for tea and cereal in a nice
sunny spot, preferably with an awesome view. First I passed through
Long Canyon and man, rounding the bend into the canyon was like
entering a meat locker. It was FREEZING. "Mountaingoat, you crafty old
dog. For once you made the right decision. Look at those wretched iced-
up tents, imagine the poor saps shivering inside..." Gloating
gleefully, I climbed up into the sun, found Hiker #816 and we sat on
rocks and ate and talked. He'd camped in that freezing canyon and
confirmed my impression.
"I have to admit, I was a little cold last night."
Lisa appeared and hiked on; I tried to call Switzerland to talk to
Sarah but my signal failed. This trail is so variable: Before long
#816 and I were hiking through lovely sun-dappled mountain pine forest
with yarrow growing at the edge of the path. I picked some to make
tea; thought it might help with my chest cold. Then we were up on the
Desert View Nature Trail and back in the world of arid grandeur.
Before long I hit the road and did the short walk to the Mt Laguna
store. I needed some more junk food snacks and it was a short walk so
This was a typical mountain store but a nice one and Hiker Central out
on the porch. A bunch of us sat there a couple of hours, eating,
writing postcards, waiting for the post office to open at 12:00. I
possibly overdid it, consuming a coffee, chocolate milk, Snapple,
cinnamon roll and pint of ice-cream, and then a trail angel drove in
with a van full of free sports drinks for hikers. I left very well
hydrated and POWERED down the Trail, though I had to stop every half-
hour to jettison some of that hydration, if you know what I mean.
AMAZING vistas in the afternoon as the Trail rounded the edge of a
massive drop-off to the vast stretch of desert plain far, far below.
#816 and I met a real old-timer there taking a walk with his stick, a
former forester with an almost inpenetrable accent and a ton of
information about the valley below; he pointed out the remains of a
post on the old Butterfield Stage route that in the mid-19th century
was used to transport mail across the country. I found out later that
his name was Doc Williams.
Soon after that encounter, however, the day began to take on an
unpleasant colour. The wind picked up dramatically - 816 and I had to
hunker down amongst some shrubs to eat a hurried lunch, and when we
stood again we were freezing and needed our windshirts. The wind was
really ripping out of the south and we were aiming a few more miles at
Pioneer Mail Trailhead and hopefully some shelter (incidentally Mr
Williams had said he'd built the picnic ground there in 1957). On the
way the wind got worse and the sky to the north was soon abuzz with
ominous, swirling flying saucer-like cloud formations. By the time we
got to Pioneer the wind was truly hellacious. Lisa, Motor, Kara and a
few others were there and there was NOWHERE in that exposed and nasty
space that offered any kind of protection. In vain we explored the
perimeters but any potential nooks were either on slopes, beneath dead
trees, too visible to the road or on damp drainages. #816 and I
scouted ahead and found a sketchy little alcove in the shrubs next to
the Trail but in a high and exposed spot. We talked the others into
trying it there but as we tried in vain to stake out our violently
flapping shelters, and with nightfall approaching, we conceded defeat
and retreated to an iffy culvert near the picnic grounds that was at
least behind an embankment and fairly protected. The ground was very
lumpy though and all of us except Kara elected to cowboy-camp on our
groundsheets, shelter-less. We admired the spectacular swirling sunset
and turned in - in my case though, there was a supper of a 24-ounce
Budweiser, a block of Hershey's chocolate and a NyQuil - ok, two
NyQuils - for my cold. I fell asleep quickly, warm and content, and
enjoyed long, convoluted and deeply affecting dreams, until, around
It was 816, standing over me with his headlamp on.
"Better pack up, it's starting to rain a bit."
"Hhhhhhhhhnnnnnn?" Rain spattered on my face. "Oh, f____."
We all got moving fast. I scooped up my already-damp stuff, shoved
most of it into my pack, hugged the rest to my chest, and in a NyQuil
haze I somehow climbed up to the road and tried to find the only
shelter available: the little toilet block. But it was dead-dark, wind
screeching at gale force, the full moon buried under cloud, and the
picnic area was a sea of treacherous fog. I stumbled along, gear and
poles askew, no idea where I was or where I was going, like some
demented creature in a cheap slasher movie, looking for the succor and
sanctuary of that little concrete outhouse, that beacon of hope - but
the only shapes I could determine were picnic tables, one to my left,
another to the right, a freaking flotilla of picnic tables, until I
stumbled at last on the Restrooms of Hope and was saved.
We all regrouped there, all except Kara, safe in her tiny coffin-like
shelter. But now what? #816 decided to attempt to erect his Tarp-Tent
in the lee of the restroom; I helped him as he tried to secure stakes
in the soft ground while the gale tried to wrench the flimsy fabric
from our grips. Finally we got it up, sort of, I bid him a pleasant
evening and adjourned to the men's half of the facility; Motor and
Lisa shared the other side. There ensued a most unpleasant and
interminable journey to dawn - occasionally we would communicate
through the walls like prisoners in a movie, and I would hear them
talking as I tried, laughably (now) to render my new lodgings
habitable. I tried singing to cheer us up but my lungs were full of
mucous and I suspect their laughter was of the nervous variety.
Meanwhile I was squeezed into a tiny and dank space with a backwoods
toilet at one end, a damp concrete floor and a powerful stench. No
room to stretch and when I leaned against the door it would burst open
to the howling wind and driving rain. It was a long night and I've
slept better, but the NyQuil at least made it all seem like a dream...
This morning we regrouped again, 816 having had the worst of it as his
shelter was blown all over the place and everything he had was wet and
muddy. Seems we on the skanky floors had been the lucky ones.
Decisions. Hike on?Hitch to a town and wait? Find a new hobby? Then
our luck changed.
A van pulled in, a former thru-hiker called Cat's Pa bearing donuts.
Kara, in depressingly high spirits, chose to hike on 25 miles or so to
the road and then hitch back to Julian, despite Cat's Pa's description
of several highly exposed miles between here and there. We were cold.
#816's sleeping bag was sodden. I was keen to avoid full-blown
pneumonia (can't understand why I can't shake this cold!) and a hotel
room sounded so sweet... Soon the four of us were in Cat's Pa's van
and before we knew it had two rooms in this lodge and even got to
enjoy a nice breakfast. No laundries in the whole town but we've
cleaned/dried up pretty nicely.
Even better, the sun has come out periodically, though the winds (50-
odd mph, we're told) are yet to abate. Tomorrow should be sunny and
windy which is a more attractive combination, and we already have a
ride lined up back to the Trail. Meanwhile, every second store in this
little township is a pie shop: hiker heaven. And one, Mom's Pies, gave
us a great lunch for free upon presentation of our PCT hike permits.
Life is good. Again. Can't wait to be back on the Trail!
~ And that's all the Goat wrote