In the morning we stopped by the mini mart where we were bestowed with free goodie bags of candy. We took our time doing last minute chores and enjoying our last hot breakfast at the Grizzly Café.
Back at the hotel room everyone waited for a ride to the trailhead. I put on my pack, ready to go.
“I have to walk since I came in from the other side of town,” I explained. “I’m trying to do the continuous footsteps thing.” I told them that maybe I’d catch up, although I wasn’t feeling too hopeful; road walking would put me about six miles behind the group.
On the way out I saw Rally and Squatchie, who were taking a zero day and leaving tomorrow. Justa was coming in later that day, they said.
“I’m on my way out,” I said. “I just took a zero otherwise I’d hike out with you guys. I’m sure you’ll catch up though. I’ll probably do a short day and camp at the base of Mount Baden-Powell.”
I also ran into Papa Smurf by the main road.
“I heard people are getting a ride to the trailhead,” he said. I gave him directions to the hotel where everyone else was waiting.
By the time I made it out of town it was almost noon. The road walk was all uphill, but bearable since it wasn’t hot out and the midweek traffic was non-existent. I listened to a podcast about the PCT as I passed closed ski hills, expensive ranches and a forest service building. About a half mile before the trailhead a car pulled up next to me. A couple other hikers waved from the back seat.
“Tits! Hey guys.”
“Do you want a ride?” The driver asked.
“Thanks, but I’m almost there. I’m walk.”
The trailhead was only another half mile. I took a break at a picnic table and ate an orange while talking with two other hikers I knew vaguely, Jill and Turkey.
“I have the same sun hat!” Jill said, pointing to the one tied on her pack. I asked her if she liked it. “Yeah,” she answered. “I actually lost my first one on the trail.”
“This is your hat!” I said excitedly. “You lost it by Ziggy and The Bear’s, right?”
I offered to give it back, but she insisted I keep it since she’d already replaced it. I said goodbye and set off on the trail. It felt good to not be walking on asphalt.
I passed a group of preschoolers and their chaperones. They all moved to the side to let me by, some shyly looking away, others asking questions like how long have I been hiking for, and how far am I going. I felt awkward answering them, like anything I said might be a bad influence on their still malleable minds.
Not much farther along was a campground where I made lunch and shared a picnic table with Bangarang, big Shaggy and Pam. We talked about birdwatching and stove fuel and they told me about Boise, where they all lived and worked together. Shaggy and Pam would be leaving the trail soon and heading home, they said. When I finished lunch I told them it had been nice sharing the trail with them, and that I hoped I’d see them again.
The trail wound its way evenly through a beautiful ridgeline forest with occasional glimpses of clouded valleys not too far below. The path soon descended into almost endless switchbacks through twisted acorn trees. I finally reached the desolate, foggy highway at the bottom, across from which was a parking lot – the trailhead for Mount Baden-Powell.
I saw Papa Smurf by the restrooms, eating a pop tart.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he replied. “Want some?” I let him shake some crushed blueberry pop tart into my hands.
“I was going to camp here,” I explained, “but I didn’t realize it was a highway. I guess I’m going up. What about you?”
“Yeah, me too.” He lit his pipe and offered it to me, but drew back and hid it behind him just as a small van pulled to a stop in the parking area and Catholic nuns began filing out. We watched eight of them total exit the van.
“It’s like a nun clown car…” I said. “i wonder what they’re doing here.”
I approached them and started a conversation. They had just finished a brief hike somewhere and were stopping for a break. They asked about me and about the PCT. I answered the usual questions while Papa Smurf watched from the background, eating the last of his pop tart.
“What’s your name?” One of the nuns asked. She seemed to be in charge of the sisters – like, a mother. Or a big sister. I didn’t know much about nun hierarchy.
“Anwen,” I answered. It felt kind of wrong to give a nun my trail name.
“Anwen,” she repeated. “Can we pray for you?”
“Uh… Yeah,” I answered. “That would be really nice.”
We said goodbye and Papa Smurf and I hiked on, slowly climbing the wooded switchbacks up the mountain. We soon split up as I moved ahead, labouring under the weight of my pack and the steady, steep incline. I passed some day hikers over the next hour, including a trio of exhausted looking women.
“Did you hike all the way to the summit?” I asked them.
“Not all the way,” one of the younger women answered. “It’ll get dark soon, so we’re trying to make it back down before sunset.” The older woman, I assumed the mother, narrowed her eyes at me.
“You’re not going up now, are you?” She asked.
“I think I might, but I have a headlamp for when it gets dark, so I’ll be ok.”
“Well you take care, hon.”
I passed two older hikers setting up camp. They introduced themselves as Deejay and Paparazzi. Paparazzi had the same camera that I did, and he took a picture of me doing a silly pose on a log while I talked to them.
Soon after, I passed the Tits at their campsite, and then little Shaggy in his tent. And then I was alone.
The trees thinned out and I reached the summit at sunset. The sun cast a shadow of the mountain on the clouds below. I spent a long moment enjoying the view and appreciating the fact that I had just summited my first mountain. Before moving on I checked the log book. The Wrightwood group had signed it earlier that day. Rowan had marked the time too, indicating that they’d been there more than four hours ago.
I won’t catch up to then today, I thought. But maybe eventually.
The trail didn’t take me down the mountain, but along a westbound ridge. When it became too dark for me to see the trail clearly I put on my headlamp. The stars soon came out and in the south I could see the pink-orange lights of LA illuminating the ocean of clouds below me. Even though I was alone I felt peaceful on this dark mountain ridge. I kept one earbud in, listening to music, and the other free to listen for the mountain lions I was sure were stalking me.
I started to get tired; I painfully rolled my ankle once, and slipped and nearly fell down a steep hill when a gravelly section of the trail gave out underneath me. I knew I needed to sleep, but there would be nowhere to set up my tent until another mile or so at the Little Jimmy Spring Camp.
I made it late that night, only realizing I’d stumbled into the camp when the light from my headlamp reflected off the guy lines of several tents. I didn’t know whose they were. It was too late to set up my tent, since I didn’t want to wake anyone up, so I quietly layed out my sheet of Tyvek next to a large tree, followed by my sleeping pad, silk liner and sleeping bag. I remembered something about this camp being particularly bad for bear problems, so I stuffed my food bag in my foot box and hoped for the best.
I was cold, but I was even more tired, and the shivers quickly gave way to sleep.