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Deep Creek Bridge aka Paradise
Wow - what a day I had today. So many lessons, scenic sights, and firsts!!! Yesterday brought me through the burned out area which was grueling, but it was worth it because it got me to this section of the trail. I often say that the PCT has some spectacular sections of trail linked together by dull, miserable miles. To get the good, you have to deal with the mundane stuff.
The morning started with a brief conversation with Don't Axe. As he headed northbound, I hailed him. Told him there was a lot of uphill ahead of him. I gleefully noted that according to my elevation profiles, I would be going down for the rest of my hike. He looked at me with a wry little grin and said, "we all have our up hills." I thought he was just being philosophical. Damn, turns out he was being literal.
Today, I would be following Holcomb Creek in the morning. This is the creek where I got water last night. Yesterday afternoon, the section of it I saw was shallow and slow flowing. I saw it as soon as I left the trail camp with the picnic bench yesterday. Much of it was filled with algae and lots of scrub shrubs of some sort. The creek had opened up a little at the bridge where I last got water. The trail ran parallel to it, but some distance from it. I could see it a few hundred yards from my campsite last night. This morning I would continue to parallel it, with the trail running a little higher along the hillside. It was nice to hear running water most of the morning as I traveled through various terrain. Sometimes I was deep in the gorge of the creek. Along those sections, I walked on weathered granite sand that looks like coarse sea salt. In these areas, the trail was on a steep slope on my right with the creek on my left and with lovely desert shrubs providing a little shade here and there. Sometimes the trail was on top of the rim of the gorge where I had some open vistas and flat trail. Each time I was on the rim, I tried to call Don. I was clearly gaining mileage each day and calculated that I would be ready for my pick up sometime Thursday afternoon rather than Friday noon. I could not get cell reception though. As I walked I thought about alternative ways to contact Don. I could see from my topo map that I would be in a deep gorges most of today as I traveled along side Holcomb Creek and then later in the day, Deep Creek. I wondered if I hit the 'pick me up as planned button' on my SPOT a day early, whether he would figure it out. Probably not. I realized I should have a told him that any time he saw that message come across his email, he should jump in the truck and come pick me up. That would have been a good backup plan if I was in a place with no cell reception and only my SPOT to communicate with. Oh well, next time! This time I knew I would have cell reception at the pickup point, because we had been there before and I had tested it. It just meant that I had to wait there for 2.5 hours until he could make the drive. Onward and stop worrying! It'll work out no doubt.
During the morning hike, I was passed by and passed two separate male, solo hikers. I was watching a large grouse and several small quail as the first one passed me within a mile of my morning start. He scared the birds off unintentionally and was sorry he missed the sight. About 5 more miles up the trail, I passed another solo hiker that had climbed down from the trail to enjoy lunch on some big, flat boulders that were in the shade. Also I saw the campsite that the Washington D.C. couple must have stayed at last night. Good choice for them - it was large, flat, and had lovely desert shrubs surrounding it. I wondered how they had known about it. I had no campsites identified on my Halfmile App or map at all. Maybe they were using Guthooks App or had talked with someone familiar with the trail in advance. Over the years, I have depended on Halfmile maps to help me find designated campsites. In fact, I would pull off the trail early sometimes just for the campsite, seeing that the next one was too far for me to reach that day. That has all changed in SoCal. I rarely even look to see if there is a designated campsite. In fact, there are none on most of Section C that I'm currently hiking. Now I just start looking for flat terrain about the time I am about 30 to 60 minutes from wanting to get off trail for the day. And it has worked out just fine. I'm getting better at this hiking stuff!
By late morning, the trail was starting to descend the steep slope to the creek for the next water source. Just before I got there, however, I took a fall. For several miles, the slope was made of the weathered granite sand. The sand can slough, causing the trail to slip away slightly. You had to watch your step because sometimes, the trail was only a shoe width wide where there had been a little mini slide. As my left foot came down on the outer, downhill side of the trail, the loose granite sand gave way and down I went.I hit my right knee on the ground that had a rock sticking through the sand. My left foot slid downhill a ways. Luckily, I didn't continue to slide into the gorge. I had instinctively self-arrested by keeping my weight to the right side of my center of gravity and digging my left foot into the side of the hill. All good, except earlier I had zipped off my lower pant legs to keep cool. I rarely do that, but it was hot even early in the morning today and I was trying out different ways to keep cool. That meant, I hit the ground directly with my bare skin and without the protection of the pant leg, it was bleeding. I got back up without any trouble and walked the last 0.5 mile to the creek. Lucky for me there was lots of shade and even a grassy spot that had easy access to the water. I cleaned up my wound with untreated creek water and bandaged it up well after hitting it with Neosporin. The water was running deeper and swifter here than it had been upstream. So I felt confident about doing it this way. That's not always a good choice though and contrary to my wilderness first aid training. Why? because it is so hard to keep clean out here that infection can become a real thing that forces you off the trail. And that is especially true for wounds on knees. But I had no problems this time. It has healed quite well.
Afterwards, I collected and treated water, cooled my feet and rested on the grass under the shade for 30 minutes or so. It was serene and lovely. About then, two more young male hikers got to the stream. They stripped down to shorts and sat on boulders in the creek while eating their lunch, thoroughly enjoying this wonderful cool spot. As I got up to leave, I realized I had to cross the creek. I asked them if they had found the best route across yet, but they hadn't looked. Like me, the first priority was to get cooled off and comfortable. As I looked, it was pretty easy to see which rocks were the path across. So off I went. Hop, hop, wiggly rock, hop, step, step, step...voile I was across. The trail was a little tricky to follow along the creek bed, through boulders and trees. It crossed the water again not too far downstream. This time there were no rocks to hop cross, I just waded right through. Boy did that feel good!!! Nice a cool. I knew my shoes would be dry in no time in this heat. So what the heck. Best to enjoy it. The trail wandered back up the hill side and then down to the creek again over the next two miles where once again, I waded across the creek. There was a duck swimming here. He moved a little upstream, but I apparently posed no threat to him. He just looked at me like, "I'M not going anywhere. You get out of MY creek." So I did. And climbed to the top of the gorge on the other side where I found a most perfect flat boulder in the shade with a view of the creek: I nicknamed it the "lunch rock."
And that is what I did. I ate sandwich rounds filled with pepper jack cheese and BBQ sauce. That hit the spot! I just couldn't face my usual tuna fish salad one more time. Recently Marmot had listed her food choices for the trail on the PCT-L during a discussion about nutrition and calories. Trail food continues to be a huge challenge for me and I suspect most hikers based on the back and forth discussion on the PCT-List Serve. Today, I still had some fresh apples and carrots to eat at lunch. I just can't tell you how much difference that makes for me. Its refreshing in my mouth when I sorely need it. I am going to look back over Marmots message when I get off trail and really think harder about my food. It seems right to me to be taking the trouble to get good food into myself. It just isn't that easy to find something calorie dense enough that I can eat day after day that is also healthy.
All morning, I had enjoyed a leisurely pace on relatively flat terrain It was joyful. But the afternoon hike would become a big lesson for me. I had really been looking forward to all that downhill that the elevation profiles were showing me. I was descending from 6500 to 3000 ft for the next 28 miles. I was stoked. I figured I must be in for the downhill now. But Nooooo! I was climbing and climbing and climbing. I kept looking at the map trying to will the trail to be all downhill. After a couple more hours of sweating and panting up endless hills, I was getting downright angry. What the hell! It's hot, I'm supposed to be descending, what is this? Is it a scaling thing on the map that I am not understanding? I took the map back out and looked. No, that wasn't it. The elevation lines were the same distance apart for all elevations. Then what???? After another couple of hours sweating my brains out climbing to the top of the ridge that divided the two creek systems, I took a little 'siesta' break under a bush to calm myself down. I told myself to just accept it. This was desert hiking and quite frankly, this area was very beautiful - like a desert park. I needed to cool my jets and just enjoy it. Part of my displeasure was due to the fact that I had really gotten into the mind set of getting off the trail a full day early by making good time on these "downhill" sections. And instead, I was losing time struggling up these ridges. Being mad wasn't going to help. Trying to speed up on this hot day with a lot of sun exposure wasn't healthy. So I did a mind shift right then and there. I was going to walk a pace that felt good and look around and be grateful for the beauty before me. In an instant, I felt better. AND I figured something out on the elevation profiles immediately after my mind got clear. The elevation was going down over all, BUT if you looked at the detail behind the line drawing showing the elevation changes, Halfmile gives you the total feet gained and lost between miles. And guess what......there is BOTH gain and loss! Not just loss. I was trying to bend reality to my fantasy of racing downhill all day. Wasn't going to happen!!
With a better attitude, I headed out. And I was rewarded for my new patience. Because only a few more miles ahead, I found paradise in the desert. I came to Deep Creek Bridge. There was a large deep creek, with lots of trees for deep shade, and after you climbed down to the creek side, there were cold, deep pools of water filled with water plants. I dropped my pack and soaked my hot feet for 30 minutes while I treated and filled my water bladder and bottles. This was absolute heaven. I have never had such a good experience on any trail. I decided to re-tape my feet and cook dinner here rather than wait until later at my campsite. I had lasagna and bread and dessert. It felt like 5 star dining. In all, I was there for two hours; it was now 6:00 pm and I had a decision to make. Do I stay here for the night or try night hiking? Something I have never done before. I felt really good and strong. There were two other women hikers that had come down to the creek on my side and there were three men on the opposite bank. It was likely to be a busy spot tonight which for me makes it a little difficult to find privacy for those night time jaunts to the potty. Not to mention that getting 200 ft away from the creek edge for the potty would mean a big climb and also some environmental impact to this beautiful, sensitive area. I opted to move on even though the topo map showed I would be in a steep gorge, the trail hanging off a cliff, with few options for finding a flat spot for camping. But I was really ready to take on that challenge, both physically and mentally.
I climbed back up to the trail to cross the bridge which has about a 90 ft span. I encountered two young kids (7 and 9 yrs old) with two large dogs. They were alone right in the middle of the bridge. Mom was 50 ft below on a sandbar along the creek yelling instructions on how to line up for a picture she wanted to take. Of course, the dogs, particularly the German shepherd, was being protected of the kids and growled at me as I stepped onto the bridge. The 9 yr old son was trying to hold onto the dogs and explaining to his mom that there was "another hiker" wanting to cross. Go figure! I asked him which way he was going to go when he left the bridge, which was of course, in the same direction I needed to go. She said to let me pass. I told her that I would not go past the dogs because they were growling at me. At that point, Mom told the kids to move off the bridge and step onto the trail to the right. At that end of the bridge, there is a spur trail that goes to a cabin which is a small park that is accessible by a jeep road. There is an outhouse and picnic tables there. That was where mom, kids, and dogs had come from. I had considered spending the night there, but it felt too accessible to locals for me; It was a security problem. When I got to the opposite side of the bridge, the kids and dogs were on the PCT where I needed to go. So I had to step over to the spur trail to give them room and then had them go back onto the bridge. The German shepherd was still being aggressive towards me and the little by had his hands full, but they got away and so did I without incident this time. I am a dog owner, but I do not take my dog on trail out of courtesy to others. It isn't the first time I have had an incident on trail with someone else's dog. I was bitten twice last time. A service dog like Lucy with an adult managing the situation is one thing. This situation was not safe for me or the kids. Please think long and hard before putting an animal or a hiker or a child in this situation.
The incident was enough for me to make that final decision to move forward into the evening and get away from this nexus of people. And I have to say, I LOVE hiking in the cooler evening. Oh my gosh. The trail was clinging to a cliff about 100 to 150 ft above Deep Creek in a narrow gorge - so narrow that I could hear but not see the creek. I was flying, I hadn't moved this quickly all day. I knew logically that in the desert, one should do as much hiking in the early morning, hide under shade during the heat of the day, and then night hike, but I had yet to try that strategy. It was a different way to do it and I resist change as much as the next person. And it is a little scarier at night with animal activity increasing. So I delayed trying it, but I SHOULD HAVE DONE THIS AGES AGO!!! I thought I'd get another mile or two under my belt. Well I got another 5 miles in a little over 1.5 hrs. Why did I go this far? 'cause you can't sleep on a cliff and I was looking for flat ground! I saw a flat spot on the topo map about 2 miles up trail from the bridge. I intended to stay there, but it was teaming with red ants and mice. Not good camp mates. I hiked further. About another 1 mile up the trail and saw the most perfect camping spot any hiker could ask for - a sand bar next to Deep Creek. I was so tickled.As I was approaching it, I saw a makeshift trail off to my right that went toward the sand bar. Two male hikers had passed me and I wondered if this is the way they went. I looked around for a minute to see if they were there. I couldn't see anyone and after some consideration, I decided it was a little too far off trail. If something happened to me, no one would look there. So I kept going until I saw a dirt access road and parking lot by the sandbar. Here it was clearly posted that there was no overnight camping to protect an endangered frog habitat. Oh man! It was deepening twilight and this was the last flat spot I had seen on my topo map. Who would know if I spent the night there? Dang it, I would. I teach Leave No Trace ethics to hikers. Just because it was getting dark and safety was encroaching my thinking, I was sorely tempted. But I didn't stay. I did the right thing and kept moving. The good news - I wasn't tired, just a little apprehensive about hiking in full darkness. I had my headlamp on and at the ready.
About another 0.5 miles, I saw a wide spot in the bend of a switchback. The cleared area was just about the size of my net tent foot print, but the tarp would have gone into the bushes. And the bushes were poison oak! Crap. No way! On I went until the sky was dark and clear and full of stars. I did fall once on that right knee I had already banged up. There was a foot size divot in the trail. Topography of the trail tread is quite hard to see with the headlamp at night. As my left foot rocked into the divot, I lost balance and down I went. I'd deal with any new damage at camp - wherever that was going to be. By now I was beginning to settle into the fact that I might have to go all the way to Deep Creek Hot Springs at mile 307 which would have made this a 20.5 mile day. I knew that meant I still had about 3-4 miles to go or 2 more hours. I would arrive at 10:00 pm to what would likely be a jammed packed campsite. The hot springs is a popular clothing optional site used by both thru-hikers and locals, but it is not legal to camp within 1 mile in either direction from it. So another dilemma. Just as I was thinking all this stuff, I glimpsed a widening on my right. Slowly and carefully, I stepped off trail to investigate. Sure enough, there was flat ground. I like to get as far off the trail as I can, so I kept searching off trail. As I came around a big bush, I was thinking "Score!" this is a perfect stealth camp site!!! Well I bet the people in the tent I just shined my headlamp into had thought so too. They weren't expecting an intruder this time of night. I pretty much freaked them out. I immediately turned back, found a flat piece of cleared ground about 20 ft from the trail, and set up camp. I was tucked in by 8:30 pm. No more damage to the knee. I had just reopened the wound and it bled on my pant leg. But I guess I have real trail cred, now, with blood and dirt and sweat stains. Cool! I am officially 'hiker trash' and loving it.
Lessons learned - really look carefully at those elevation profile data, accept what is on the trail because you are not going to change it, hiking at night is the way to go in the desert, cooking at a water source away from your camp is so good in so many ways, and stealth camping takes away to constraint of staying at a designated camp site forcing you to stop too early in the day.
Wonderful surprise - Deep Creek Bridge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!